Free Term Paper on Watershed Protection

Watersheds are tracts of land that feed pools of water both above and below ground. They funnel rainfall and snowmelt, for example, through wetlands, which are natural filtration systems. The spongy soil constituting a wetland traps sediment sometimes carrying pollutants. The water trickling down becomes increasingly free of contaminants as it makes its way down to replenish underground aquifers, which humans draw on for drinking water. Land composition varies in a watershed. A single watershed may consist of mountains, prairie and /or rolling hills.

Outline

I. Introduction

II. Background

III. Watershed Operations

IV. Flood Prevention Program

V. Watershed Projects Provide Thousands of Acres of Fish and Wildlife Habitat

VI. Creating and Protecting Wetlands: Watershed Program Results

VII. Conclusion

I. Introduction

Watershed ProtectionWatersheds left unprotected from development may suffer environmental impacts that deplete soil resources. Logging, grazing, some types of mining, paving over land with impervious surfaces, and excessive rechanneling of major watercourses have affected watersheds in negative ways. Many farmers and environmentalists want to prevent soil depletion by protecting watersheds. Communities want to protect watersheds for water quality. For watershed protection to work as a policy it may require the taking of private property or the terminations of long-term leases given to loggers, ranchers, and mining corporations. Water use and quality are generally becoming controversial.

Watershed protection is increasingly seen by some as excessive government intervention. Others see it as a necessary component of any successful sustainability program or policy.

Considering the value of one watershed to the residents of Montana, on March 3, 2010, Montana Senator Max Baucus introduced the North Fork Watershed Protection Act of 2010, which prohibits mining on federally owned lands and interests in the North Fork Flathead Watershed and protects this vital natural resource from corruption and contamination from mineral mining or geothermal leasing. It also prohibits anyone from patenting any life form or material found in the area in its original form or by slight alteration such as changing an innocuous enzyme in the item. On April 28, 2010 the bill was referred to the U.S. Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public lands and Forests, which held hearings to help consider the measure.

II. Background

Visions of hurricanes and floods tearing the Midwest’s luscious black top soil downstream prompted many to ask the federal government to intervene in the 1930s. The early legislation set the tone for today’s policy. Most of the federal legislation for watershed protection emerged in this time to protect rural and agricultural interests. The Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Act of 1954, as amended, authorized Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to cooperate with states and local agencies to carry out works of improvement for soil conservation and for other purposes including flood prevention; conservation, development, utilization, and disposal of water; and conservation and proper utilization of land. NRCS implements the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Act through the following programs:

  • Watershed Surveys and Planning
  • Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Operations
  • Watershed Rehabilitation
  • Watershed Surveys and Planning

The NRCS cooperates with other federal, state, and local agencies in making investigations and surveys of river basins as a basis for the development of coordinated water resource programs, floodplain management studies, and flood insurance studies. NRCS also assists public sponsors to develop watershed plans. The focus of these plans is to identify solutions that use conservation practices, including nonstructural measures, to solve problems. Each project must contain benefits directly related to agriculture, including rural communities that account for at least 20 percent of the total benefits of the project.

III. Watershed Operations

Watershed Operations is a voluntary program that provides assistance to local organizations sponsoring authorized watershed projects, planned and approved under the authority of the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Act of 1954, and 11 designated watersheds authorized by the Flood Control Act of 1944. NRCS provides technical and financial assistance to states, local governments, and tribes (project sponsors) to implement authorized watershed project plans for the purpose of watershed protection; flood mitigation; water quality improvements; soil erosion reduction; rural, municipal, and industrial water supply; irrigation water management; sediment control; fish and wildlife enhancement; and wetlands and wetland function creation and restoration. There are over 1,500 active or completed watershed projects. As communities become more involved in environmental issues they quickly learn about their particular watershed.

IV. Flood Prevention Program

The Flood Control Act of December 22, 1944, authorized the Secretary of Agriculture to install watershed improvement measures (http://www.fws.gov/laws/lawsdigest/flood.html). This act authorized 11 flood prevention watersheds. The NRCS and the Forest Service (FS) carry out this responsibility with assistance from other bureaus and agencies within and outside the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Watershed protection and flood prevention work currently under way in small upstream watersheds all over the United States sprang from the exploratory flood prevention work authorized by the Flood Control Act of 1944, and from the intervening 54 pilot watershed projects authorized by the Agriculture Appropriation Act of 1953. These projects are the focus of much study as watershed protection and soil conservation have become increasingly high-profile issues following the impact of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans in 2006. Many accuse these types of projects as too little too late for prevention of risk to urban areas from natural disasters.

Because the authorized flood prevention projects include relatively large areas, work plans are developed on a subwatershed basis. Surveys and investigations are made and detailed designs, specifications, and engineering cost estimates are prepared for construction of structural measures. Areas where sponsors need to obtain land rights, easements, and rights-of-way are delineated. This can present an issue when private property owners do not want to cooperate with flood prevention and soil conservation. There are presently over 1,600 projects in operation.

V. Watershed Projects Provide Thousands of Acres of Fish and Wildlife Habitat

There are 2,000 NRCS-assisted watershed projects in the United States, with at least one project in every state. Some projects provide flood control, while others include conservation practices that address a myriad of natural resource issues such as water quality, soil erosion, animal waste management, irrigation, water management, water supplies, and recreation. Whatever the primary purpose, watershed projects have many community benefits such as fish and wildlife habitat enhancement. Over 300,000 acres of surface water have been created by the construction of 11,000 watershed dams.

Lakes generally range in size from 20 to 40 surface acres and provide a good mix of deep water and shoreline riparian areas. Some lakes have up to several hundred acres of surface water, and many had recreational areas developed around them. Lakes formed by the watershed dams have created thousands of acres of open water providing excellent fish and wildlife habitat and areas for migrating waterfowl to rest and feed. Conservation practices in watershed projects such as buffers, pasture and rangeland management, tree plantings, ponds, conservation cropping systems, and conservation tillage provide cover, water, and food for a variety of birds and animals.

Thousands of people enjoy fishing, hiking, boating, and viewing wildlife in these very scenic settings each year. NRCS-assisted watershed projects provide a wide diversity of upland habitat landowners in watershed projects with technical and sometimes financial assistance in applying conservation practices. Many of these practices create or improve wildlife habitat and protect water quality in streams and lakes.

Although watershed projects may offer benefits to recreational users, others wonder about their environmental impacts. To what end is the soil being conserved? What if the area is a natural floodplain? What are the impacts of recreational users on endangered or threatened species? These questions and others abound in the traditional soil conservation and floodplain protection policies.

VI. Creating and Protecting Wetlands: Watershed Program Results

According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, they have assisted in creating the following:

  • Upland wildlife habitat created or enhanced: 9,140,741 acres
  • Wetlands created or enhanced: 210,865 acres
  • Stream corridors enhanced: 25,093 miles
  • Reduced sedimentation: 49,983,696 tons per year

The 2,000 watershed projects have established a $15 billion national infrastructure, by their own estimate that is providing multiple benefits to over 48 million people.

  • Agricultural flood damage reduction: $266 million
  • Nonagricultural flood damage reduction: $381 million
  • Agricultural benefits (nonflood): $303 million
  • Nonagricultural benefits (nonflood): $572 million
  • Total monetary benefits: $1.522 billion
  • Number of bridges benefited: 56,787
  • Number of farms and ranches benefited: 154,304
  • Number of businesses benefited: 46,464
  • Number of public facilities benefited: 3,588
  • Acres of wetlands created or enhanced: 210,865
  • Acres of upland wildlife habitat created or enhanced: 9,140,741
  • Miles of streams with improved water quality: 25,093
  • Number of domestic water supplies benefited: 27,685
  • Reduced soil erosion (tons per year): 89,343,55
  • Tons of animal waste properly managed: 3,910,10
  • Reduced sedimentation (tons per year): 49,983,696
  • Water conserved (acre feet per year): 1,763,472

The Watershed Program has been used by communities for over 50 years. The authorizing legislation has been amended several times to address a broader range of natural resource and environmental issues, and today the program offers communities more assistance to address some environmental issues. There are watershed projects in every state. Over 2,000 projects have been implemented since 1948. New projects are being developed each year by local people.

VII. Conclusion

As water resources become scarce, the competition for water will force water users to exert all rights in water and the land. In places where floods occur, property owners will want flood control as watershed protection. Communities want clean and safe drinking water, and this is becoming a scarce resource even in communities with water. Watersheds absorb all past and present wastes, by-products, emissions, discharges, runoff, and other environmental impacts. Their protection will require increasingly stringent controls on all water users and residents of the watershed. Private property owners and land developers object to this because they may have planned for a more profitable use. Without water it is difficult to make a profit in developing land. Sustainable sources of safe water are essential to many stakeholders. Watershed protection will become increasingly controversial as it moves from 1940s and 1950s soil erosion prevention policy to one that incorporates accurate monitoring of water and precepts of sustainability in urban and suburban settlements as well as rural ones.

Robert William Collin

Bibliography:

  1. deGraaff , Jan, et al., eds., Monitoring and Evaluation of Soil Conservation and Watershed Development Projects. Enfield, NH: Science Publishers, 2007.
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