The Watershed Concept

If you have been around lakes long enough or have participated in more recent lake planning initiatives, the idea of watershed planning has probably been discussed to some degree if not in detail.  To others it may not yet have been fully investigated as to how the concept interrelates with lakes and other surface waters.  The idea is quite simple: all water drains to a specific endpoint or location and the area that drains to that one common endpoint is described as the watershed to that specific endpoint.  There are certainly many flat areas of the earth’s surface, but gravity tends to have its way with water, forcing it to move to the lowest location it can find.

Along with this movement to an endpoint, the water picks up material which travels with it to the endpoint.  When the endpoint is a lake or significant waterbody the sum of all the material (other than water) is often referred to as a “load”.  The load typically consists of unnecessary materials which do not provide any benefit.  With the watershed concept we can then visualize and to some extents mathematically compute a numerical sum of material constituents to that endpoint.  In the context of watershed management and lakes, the endpoint is the lake.  The concept can be further extrapolated to determine how much material is entering the lake other than water.  The video below helps explain:

More simply stated:  what is in the watershed eventually winds up in our lakes.

Why is this important you may ask?  It is important because we typically treat what is in our lakes not what is coming in.  This can seem inconsequential if the lake is relatively clean with few management concerns, but since we have an affinity with water it is quite natural for us to build our homes and oftentimes our communities around lakes or other bodies of water.  Make no mistake about it, much of the “unnecessary” constituents, aka pollutants making their way into the water (or lake) are mankind’s doing.  At the end of the day these materials seen and often unseen may end up in our lakes and streams.

Therefore the principal to cleaning up water bodies is conducive to proper management of the watershed that delivers the water.  Easier to do?  Absolutely not, but in the long run treating a symptom without actually treating the source of that symptom is at best a stalemate; whereas correction of the source can have an impact not only at the endpoint, but at all the points from the endpoint back to the source.

In the long run, we have chosen to make many of our lakes private and as a result the water held within is also privatized.  Other than Clean Water Act (CWA) mandates general watershed residents may never truly realize the impact to downstream residents unless the condition is highlighted.  Ultimately if the upstream land user doesn’t have a “stake” in the downstream water resource it becomes even harder to initiate proactive watershed or lake management goals.

Future articles highlighting the “stakeholder” concept and challenges of lake and stream privatization will be discussed in future blog articles.  Thanks for reading.

-p0sted by Admin

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Impairments and Illinois Lakes

Here in Illinois we are not always blessed with much of the same resources as other states.  Locating a defined  directory of the condition of Illinois Lakes for example can be difficult.  Unless you can navigate EPA’s cumbersome website, and then decode the method of which the data is cataloged, coming up with lake management strategies based on EPA recommendations can be tedious work.

The reason it can be so tedious is simply the way it is recorded.  Quite simply the EPA documents water bodies as impaired or “not-impaired”.  There is a genuine possibility that if the water is primarily located in a developed watershed the condition of the water body will be impaired.  This is simply just the result of years of watershed abuse.  All things aside, understanding impairment and the many things that go with it can be a little confusing, so we provided an excellent video in the Media Center provided by Lake County Health Department – Lakes Management Unit Director Mike Adam.  The presentation was developed for the Greater Pistakee Lake Watershed Partnership (GPLWP) meeting at Volo Bog (6/20/16), but a great majority of the material applies to impairment concepts in general.  We would like to thank Mike and the Lake County Health Department (LCHD) for their ongoing participation and support in these initiatives.

-p0sted by Admin