It’s Time to Love Your Watershed

People around the globe observed World Environment Day on June 5th, taking a moment to consider that the “foods we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the climate that makes our planet habitable all come from nature.” Here at home, it’s the perfect time to appreciate the gifts from nature that are vital to our health and well-being. Among them are the rivers and streams that give us the water in our taps, as well as beloved places for swimming, fishing, and boating.

In Charlottesville and Albemarle County, most of us live in the Rivanna River Watershed, encompassing 766 square miles of our region’s rolling terrain. Mechums River, Moormans River, Ivy Creek, Moores Creek, Meadow Creek, and many other local waterways are all part of the Rivanna network.

To help us recognize the value and fragility of this resource, the Rivanna Stormwater Education Partnership (RSEP) has launched Love Your Watershed, a virtual campaign aimed at raising awareness of the “beauties and struggles” of the river system that feeds our drinking water reservoirs and that flows ultimately into the James River and the Chesapeake Bay.

How we choose to landscape and maintain our yards and gardens is a critical factor in the health of the Rivanna and its tributaries, many of which suffer from the effects of excess sediment, nutrients, animal waste, and other pollutants washed into our streams by stormwater. The Love Your Watershed website offers a number of ways we can reduce these impacts, such as installing rain barrels or a cistern to harvest rainwater from downspouts, or planting rain gardens that capture stormwater runoff and allow it to seep into the ground.

More broadly, local residents can adopt conservation landscaping practices. These involve changing turf grass lawns or bare soils into areas that incorporate “environmentally sensitive design, low-impact development, non-invasive native plants, and/or integrated pest management,” according to the Virginia Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts. “The purpose is to create a diverse landscape that helps to protect clean air and water and support wildlife.”

It’s also important to avoid overuse of fertilizers that contribute to algal blooms and oxygen-starved dead zones in downstream water-bodies, including the Chesapeake Bay. “The same rain that helps turn your lawn green,” RSEP explains, “also washes excess fertilizers, pesticides, and other pollutants into the nearest creek.”

The Healthy Virginia Lawns program, a joint venture between the Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners and the Department of Conservation and Recreation, provides science-based lawn fertilization recommendations and other best management practices for local households. Our on-site consultations are on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but we look forward to being back in action whenever contact restrictions are lifted.