Who controls the Ohio River watershed?

By Dolly Anderson

Ohio certified volunteer naturalist

While reading the newspaper the other day I came across an article stating that the Ohio River’s health across six states may not be used to set pollution standards for the waterway, leaving the responsibility of setting water standards to the individual states.

This leads us right into the subject I am very interested in: “watersheds.”

Six states with different standards of pollution and wastewater with the same destination, the Ohio River. Whatever you put into the river will eventually show up at the end of the river. That’s simply gravity at work.

A watershed is an area of land that collects precipitation in the form of rain, snow and ice and discharges it, either fast or slowly, to the surrounding area of marshes, streams, rivers, lakes and underground.

Watersheds are generally drainage areas, which are delineated by elevation changes. Mountains, valleys, streams, plains and other natural areas considered part of the land are in the watershed ecosystem.

Watersheds are not political or property boundaries, although how and what people do to the water upstream makes a huge difference in the viability of water downstream. Globally, there are 114 major watersheds draining the major rivers of the world.

Water is distributed around the world in a very uneven pattern, which makes watershed management so important. The watershed begins at the headwaters where plants, animals, soils, water and air interact. Water flowing in different directions from this area usually feed different watersheds. As the water flows down to lower elevations, it gains strength in volume and force, eroding the land to form creeks, streams and rivers. The headwaters are fed by precipitation and usually have good water quality, but they are the most susceptible to human intervention.

In 1972, Congress enacted the law to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the USA waters with the Clean Water Act.

To achieve this goal around our nation, a variety of programs have been developed and supervised by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Its goal is to make the water clean enough for their designated uses.

The effect of agriculture on a watershed can be enormous. But we cannot just blame the farmers for this problem. We are changing the land at an alarming rate and therefore changing the way the water flows and what is flowing in that water.

As we change the land, a result is a disruption of native species, introduction of invasive species and destruction and isolation of natural habitat.

We need to remember that we are all in a certain watershed. Our actions affect the watershed. Whether it is fertilizing our lawn or flushing out-dated drugs down the toilet, everything we do contributes to changes in the watershed and problems that result.

To find out more about your watershed, go to http://go.osu.edu/yourwater.

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