Our Pot of Gold…Is Our Water
If a one gallon jug filled with water represented all the
water in the world the amount of available fresh water would equal just over a
tablespoon – less than one half of one percent of the total. The rest is salt water or unavailable such as
the fresh water frozen in the polar regions of the world. Seventy to 89%
(depending on the source) of the fresh water we humans use is for irrigation. Most countries import food because they
either don’t have the soils or the water to grow their own food. Unfortunately the most populated areas of the
world are usually the areas short on water.
Five thousand children die every single day because they don’t have
access to the most important and cheapest medicine in the world – clean
water. Here in the great Valley of Virginia we don’t need irrigation to
grow our food and we have phenomenal access to clean water. Here in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia we
live at the end of the rainbow and our pot of gold…is our water.
Schematically, a riverine system looks like the above ground
part of a tree. The base of the tree or
trunk is the resulting river from the countless and ever increasing number of branches
and twigs from above. As one progresses
upstream from the trunk there are more and more branches each becoming smaller
and smaller until one gets to the very end of the branch and there, one will
see the beginning of the river….a spring that just bubbles up out of the
Springs are simply the intersection of the ground water with
the surface of the earth. That spring
water was once rainfall that was left over from growing our forests, pastures
and crops. It percolated through the
soil and entered the mysterious underground world under our farms, forests and
urban lands. Some spring water is only a
few hours old some may be centuries old.
There are thousands of springs in the Valley that provide
our homes with water and charge our streams.
All of the water in a stream has passed through or across our land. The soil is the regulator for the entire hydrologic
cycle and is its natural carbon filter. The
soil is one of the world’s greatest carbon sinks capable of storing more carbon
than twice the carbon in all the vegetation above ground. So what we do on our land and in our soil profoundly
affects the quality of our water.
All of the water in a stream
has passed through or across our land.
The soil is the regulator for the entire hydrologic cycle and is its
natural carbon filter.
The most important product of forests is not timber or
wildlife but clean water. China, for
example has banned tree cutting in the Yangtze watershed because they learned a
hard lesson: An unmanaged watershed, one
with no conservation practices, is one that the water runs off too rapidly
causing flooding and landslides, both of which kill people. They deduced that a standing tree has more
value for regulating the hydrologic cycle than the value of its lumber. Too bad they weren’t practicing good forest
Just as forests produce clean water, so does agricultural
land that has the proper conservation practices installed on the farm. Without forests and farmland there would be no
ground water recharge area and no natural carbon filter for rainfall. Rain falling on impervious surfaces such as pavement
and rooftops or on denuded soils with no vegetation does not soak in; it runs off
causing increased flooding, property damage and loss of lives.
Conservation practices or Best Management Practices are what
we do on the land to produce clean water.
Cover Crops, nutrient management, winter feeding facilities for
livestock, stream fencing and planting trees are just a few examples of soil
and water stewardship. It’s what the Chesapeake Bay tmdl is all about…using the land to
produce without sacrificing the quality of the soil or the water. Are you doing all you can to assure that
cleaner water leaves your land?