If a one-gallon jug filled with water represented all the
water in the world the amount of available freshwater 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 freshwater frozen in the polar regions of the world. Seventy to 89%
(depending on the source) of the freshwater 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.
The Most Important Medicine in the World
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.
It Looks Like a Tree
Schematically, a riverine system looks like the above ground
part of a tree. The base of the tree or the 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
It’s All Connected
Springs are simply the intersection of the groundwater with the surface of the earth. That spring water was once rainfall that was leftover 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.
The Soil is the Regulator
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.
Value in a Standing Tree
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 management.
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 groundwater 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.
What We Do On The Land
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?