"Being Aware of Our Watershed"

By Joyce Haynes


Fifth grade students in McDonald County are invited each fall to attend a watershed awareness
festival presented by a partnership of groups such as University of Missouri Extension, Elk River
Watershed Improvement Association, (ERWIA), and Missouri Department of Conservation,
(MDC).
The festival consists of various educational stations that provide hands-on learning. At one
station students are given and imaginary piece of land located on the Elk River Watershed. As
potential landowners, they learn that land use practices and conservation habits have a great
impact on the quality of the water in their watershed.
They learn the simple rule that water travels downhill and that water pollution does exsit.
They can identify point and non-point water pollution sources and that water pollution is often
caused by their usage of the land.
Most important, they learn that most people live downstream and are affected by pollution
sources from upstream.
Every citizen in McDonald County is a part of a watershed and every stream is a product of its
watershed. Watershed management includes the uses of the land and the activities of rural and
urban living.
We are all linked to a stream regardless of our occupation or lifestyle. How we treat the land is
reflected in our streams.
Left to nature, a watershed will deliver some nutrients and sediments such as soil and gravel to a
stream. A forested or native grass watershed helps slow down the delivery of runoff over a longer
period, while watersheds with large amounts of timber clearing or construction of paved streams
and parking lots allows the water to runoff faster.
Faster runoff increases erosion both on the land and in the stream channels, as witnessed by
land owners last spring when the county had three floods in three months time.
An important part of our watershed ins the flood plain. The flood plain of a river is basicaly a
level area on both sides of the stream channel that allows flood waters to spread out, thus reducing
the flood waters potential energy, resulting in less damage downstream. If the flood plain in not
allowed to work properly and the channel is forced to handle more of the fast flow, the stream will
erode.
In urban areas, flood plains are a great location for sport parks, which can withstand periodic
flooding. Flood plains make good pastures or areas for growing nut trees. Corridors of trees on
both sides of a stream help keep the land intact.
Flood plains also contain wetlands which function to slow and filter the flood water, and
wetlands provide a great diversity of wildlife. Wetlands consist of swamps, forest wetland, marshes,
fens, seeps, ponds, etc. They play a very important function in reducing flood heights and
improving water quality.
As members of the same watershed, it is up to everyone to practice best management practices
to help prevent excessive runoff, water pollution and erosion. Being aware of the components of
our watershed is a great start for being responsible stewards of our land. Just ask any fifth grader in
the county, I’m sure they’d agree.