It surrounds us. Whether it is in the form of a lake, river or the groundwater beneath us, water is one of the earth’s most precious resources and an essential element that sustains all living things. Without water, land becomes inhabitable.
The Science of Water
Although there is only a limited amount of water available on earth, it’s constantly being recycled. This is known as the hydrological or water cycle. Water, as a liquid, evaporates into the atmosphere from the sun’s heat. Precipitation then brings it back down to the earth’s surface. This cycle continually moves water in and out of the earth’s watersheds.
A watershed is an area of land that drains water into a water body, such as a lake, river, or wetland and recharges groundwater. One of the primary functions of a watershed is to regulate the water in the hydrological cycle by collecting, storing and then slowly releasing water from the soil. The amount or level of water in various parts of the watershed is dependent upon soil conditions, vegetative cover, the length and slope of the drainage landscape, climate of the area and the time of year.
Water and Your Community
We all live, work, or play in a watershed. There are many different users of and stakeholders in a watershed, including:
- Urban-suburban residents
- Agricultural producers
- Lake residents and recreational users
- Commercial and industrial users
Water is an essential resource for all of these users. But it is not enough just to have sufficient quantities of water. Water must also be of sufficient quality that it can be used for its intended purpose, whether for human or animal consumption, for irrigation, or to support a population of fish. In addition to healthy water for drinking, we also depend on good water quality for irrigation, wildlife habitat, recreation, municipal and industrial uses, and simply enjoyment in the landscape.
Water quality can be an important indicator of watershed health. It is important to remember that what we do in the watershed affects water quality. Many human activities can have adverse affects on water quality, quantity and the state of the watershed. Remember, our impacts are felt downstream just as we are affected by what happens upstream.
As community leaders, municipalities play an important role in guiding and supporting water and watershed stewardship in their cities, towns, villages, counties and municipal districts. Elected officials can help ensure good stewardship of valuable water sources and their associated watersheds through the development and implementation of appropriate municipal land use policies and bylaws. Understanding best management practices can also help community leaders provide land owners with credible advice, guide residents through their local land use bylaws, and assist in directing inquiries to other appropriate authorities for private land development and recreational activities.
As individuals we also have a role and a responsibility to help maintain the quality and quantity of our water sources. There are many things we can do to help improve water quality and the health of our watersheds. Here are just a few simple tips:
- Do not dispose of household waste or toxic/hazardous substances down the drain.
- Avoid using chemical pesticides and adopt alternative pest control methods.
- If you own an acreage or cottage, or live on a farm, ensure your sewage disposal system is in proper working order.
- Repair or replace leaking faucets and toilets and install low flow shower heads.
- Consider a low-maintenance landscape; one which requires little more water than nature provides
Visit Environment Canada for more helpful information and useful tips for using our water resources wisely.
- Getting to Know Your Local Watershed: Agdex 576–8, Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development.
- Living on the Land: Stewardship for Small Acreages. University of Nevada, Cooperative Extension.
- Fitch, L. and N. Ambrose. Riparian Areas: A User’s Guide to Health. 2003. Lethbridge, Alberta: Cows and Fish Program.
- Lake Stewardship Reference Guide. 2006. Association of Summer Villages of Alberta.
Effective stewardship maintains and restores the ecological functions which produce the goods and services that we and future generations depend on.
Learn more about the United Nations Water for Life decade (2005–2015) and the vision that is inspiring Canadians to protect its valuable water resources over the long term.