Ask Eartha column: Maintaining a healthy watershed | SummitDaily.com

Ask Eartha column: Maintaining a healthy watershed

Eartha Steward
Ask Eartha

There is much work to be done to ensure the ecosystem services provided by watersheds are protected.

Dear Eartha,

How can we better economically value our waterways in order to restore and protect them?

— Brady, Frisco

Typically, a nation's infrastructure includes transportation assets, such as airports, roads and bridges, as well as the energy and communications grid vital to human movement in the modern age. These are what politicians are typically talking about when they deride the "crumbling" of our infrastructure assets.

Watersheds are rarely mentioned on this list of decaying infrastructure, ... but they can still become unhealthy, mismanaged and destroyed. This affects us in many ways but since it may not be visible every day ... we forget how important watersheds truly are to our everyday survival.

Watersheds are rarely mentioned on this list of decaying infrastructure, perhaps because they don't crumble like other physical assets, but they can still become unhealthy, mismanaged and destroyed. This affects us in many ways but since it may not be visible every day (such is the case with a beaten-up bridge or a shoddy communication system), we forget how important watersheds truly are to our everyday survival.

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A watershed is an area of land drained by a stream or a system of streams. It includes the area between ridge tops which drains into one outlet. Watersheds include uplands, valley lands, riparian areas and wetlands, waterways (rivers and lakes) and estuaries. Healthy watersheds provide for the capture, storage and safe release of precipitation as well as clean water for communities.

A healthy watershed will possess some of these characteristics, according to Marin Watersheds:

Water quality is high enough to support native aquatic species.

Native, keystone plant and animal species can sustain stable populations.

Upland forests and grasslands are managed to promote rain infiltration, provide diverse habitat for native wildlife, reduce soil erosion, and deliver clean water into streams.

This fluid movement of water and the healthy preservation of the surrounding (and encompassing) ecosystem is important enough for our Blue River Watershed to have its own nonprofit dedicated to its maintenance and preservation. The work the Blue River Watershed Group and others like them do around the nation may have just received a directional boost with recent legislation out of California.

According to the nonprofit American Rivers, California Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed AB 2480, which recognizes California's watersheds as water infrastructure. Just as the state's canals and levees need maintenance and repair, so do rivers and watersheds. This bill opens the door to using modern infrastructure financing approaches to protect and repair rivers and watersheds. Infrastructure bonds can now be used for restoration and protection.

While the legislation in California is a great first step, there is much work to be done to ensure the ecosystem services provided by watersheds are protected. Here are some actions that you can take to preserve local watersheds and increase the profitability of our county even if you are not part of a legislative body.

Contact the environmental organizations in your community who are striving to build a more sustainable future through vigorous programs including water efficiency plans and watershed restoration.

Learn about your legislators to gauge their voting records and to let them know you care about your water, your community and its robust profit-making ability as well as the natural inspirational beauty that stokes our healthful aspirations inherent in a well taken care of watershed.

Investigate reasonable and ethical investment solutions that aim to help solve our water issues and that will not only be profitable but also designed to build a vibrant healthy future for all.

Lastly, go enjoy the Blue River, go fishing or just enjoy the trails and the beauty of the forest that provides us with the water we need. It not only helps to ensure a healthy recreational economy, but also the health of our waterways and ecosystems as well.

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