Have you ever wondered what all the fuss was about with watersheds? When a watershed is healthy it can have a substantial affect in the community it serves. In fact, many people are surprised at the far-reaching influence a healthy watershed can play.
Not only is the ecosystem rewarded, but the surrounding community also sees many economic, physical and mental health benefits.
When people think about a healthy watershed they generally think about quality water. But a watershed provides more goods and services to our delicate ecosystem then the water we drink.
Here are just a few of the things a well preserved watershed will deliver:
- Water Quality - As water travels thru natural landscapes and floodplains many pollutants are filtered from the water. In addition, sediment is reduced and nutrient cycling is also taking place.
- Climate Change - A healthy watershed offers increased resilience to the threat of climate change. When floodplains and riparian areas remain intact a watershed is better suited to deal with more extreme weather pattens. As well as other changes associated with climate change, such as changes in precipitation.
- Carbon Storage - Greenhouse gas emissions are offset if a watershed has intact natural land cover and soil resources, as they will be capable of sequestering carbon.
- Fewer Invasive Species - If an ecosystem is functioning naturally it'll not only be more resilient, but the indigenous species will out-compete the invasive species.
Frequently the economic benefits of a healthy watershed are overlooked. Here are just a few:
- Water Treatment and Infrastructure Costs - Pollutants are filtered from water as it flows thru natural landscapes. Recent reports have found that for every 10% increase in forest cover, chemical and treatment costs decreased by 20%. In other words, it is not only less expensive, but also more efficient to use our watersheds as a source of quality water . . . but only if they are healthy watersheds.
- Job and Revenue Opportunities - When a watershed is healthy there are many opportunities for fishing, swimming, boating, hiking, biking and the viewing of wildlife. It's estimated that over 30 million US residents fish recreationally. In addition, these anglers generate approximately $45 billion in annual retail sales and 1 million jobs.
- Reduced Flood Mitigation Costs - Natural landscapes and floodplains are better prepared to handle flooding, thus reducing the burden on public drainage infrastructure.
- Property Values - When homes are built near healthy watersheds the homeowners not only enjoy a balanced ecosystem, they also benefit from higher property values.
Mental & Physical Benefits
A healthy watershed goes beyond the economic and ecosystem benefits. Our health and well-being is also rewarded.
- Exercise - If people have easy access to recreation areas such as greenways and forests, they are more likely to exercise. This contributes to a healthier community, fewer insurance claims and less money spent on illnesses.
- Illness - Studies have shown that there are fewer sick days needed when employees work in areas with a view to a green space. Hospitals have also found that natural scenery contributes to shorter post-operative stays and fewer complications, and in addition, less pain medication is needed!
- Stress & Cognitive Development - When students are exposed to green spaces they have lower stress levels and reduced levels of attention deficit disorder.
Unfortunately, the critical ecosystem benefits and services a healthy watershed delivers is often overlooked when making land use decisions.
Source: United States Environmental Protection Agency