What is a Watershed?
A watershed is an area of land that drains all the streams and rainfall to a common outlet such as the outflow of a reservoir, mouth of a bay, or any point along a stream channel. The word watershed is sometimes used interchangeably with drainage basin or catchment. Ridges and hills that separate two watersheds are called the drainage divide. The watershed consists of surface water–lakes, streams, guts, reservoirs, and wetlands–and all the underlying ground water. Larger watersheds contain many smaller watersheds. It all depends on the outflow point; all the land that drains water to the outflow point is the watershed for that outflow location. Watersheds are important because the streamflow and the water quality in the area are affected by things, human-induced or not, happening in the land area “above” the outflow point.
Watersheds hold key purpose to helping sustain life on our planet. Watersheds provide homes and nutrients for wildlife. Our society uses it for farming, manufacturing, transportation and helps to generate power. Our watersheds also help in the regulating of our earth’s temperature.
The benefits and services provided by healthy watersheds are numerous and include reduced vulnerability to invasive species, climate change and future land use changes. Healthy watersheds with natural land cover and soil resources also provide vast carbon storage capabilities, offsetting greenhouse gas emissions. They provide habitats for many animal species, preserve recreation opportunities (i.e. fishing, boating, swimming) and contribute to tourism (hiking, birding etc.). Watersheds are a primary contribution to the quality of our everyday lives. Therefore we must all work together to keep our watersheds healthy!
Smith Bay Watershed
Located in northeastern St. Thomas, the Smith Bay watershed is approximately 1.4 sq. miles and is divided into three main sub-watersheds, each draining to Water Bay, Sugar Bay, and Lindquist Beach/Smith Bay. The Smith Bay watershed offers a unique opportunity to compare hydrologic conditions and watershed health between Water Bay and Lindquist Beach sub-watersheds, which represent a heavily urbanized and a relatively undeveloped drainage area, respectively.
Starting in 2015 a two year watershed assessment of the Smith Bay Watershed was conducted as a collaborative effort between the Virgin Islands Conservation Society (VICS), Blue Flag—USVI, the Horsley Witten Group (HW), and the VI Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR), with guidance and input from the Smith Bay Community Action Foundation and funded by DPNR-DEP through a US EPA 319 grant. Coral World Ocean Park was the sole sponsor of matching funds to support community outreach educational activities associated with this effort.
The goals of this project were to inform the public on the causes of the stormwater and non-point source pollution problems they are witnessing in their watershed, offer suggestions for alleviating those issues, and improving overall watershed awareness through education and outreach. Ultimately, it is the intent of this watershed assessment and planning process to better position the community to advance implementation of priority restoration actions.
Preserving and restoring the Smith Bay Watershed
- Protect and Restore Remaining Natural Infrastructure
Wetlands, floodplain and shoreline buffers, pockets of permeable soils, and forest canopy all provide hydrologic services for the Smith Bay Watershed. While many of these features have been lost in the Water Bay sub-watershed, Sugar Bay and Lindquist Beach sub-watersheds still retain some of this natural infrastructure.
- Improve Stormwater Management on Public and Private Properties
Flooding is one of the key watershed issues identified by residents and businesses, particularly in the Water Bay sub-watershed. Several factors contribute to this issue, including unmanaged surface runoff generated by impervious cover, gut alterations, wetland loss, and inadequate drainage infrastructure
- Reduce the Impact of Individual Onsite Wastewater Disposal Systems
Little is known about the impact of onsite wastewater disposal systems (OSDS) in the USVI, even though much of islands’ area is not deemed suitable for conventional septic systems. System type, age, maintenance frequencies, and average failure rates of residential and commercial OSDS in the Smith Bay watershed are not well-documented.
- Coordinate Voluntary Pollution Prevention Activities
Examples of pollution prevention measures include isolating or covering designated areas for vehicle maintenance, removing trash and debris from gut buffers, installing large boulders or fencing to prevent illegal dumping access, covering outdoor storage areas, and providing secondary containment for liquid storage.
What Can You Do?
Top 10 Ways to Improve your Watershed:
- Maintain soakaways/septic tanks.
- Read the label. Use eco-friendly cleaning supplies. Use fertilizers & pesticides sparingly.
- Reduce sediment and nutrient run-off by creating and enhancing riparian corridors (buffer zones with planted vegetation between land and guts/wetlands).
- Plant shrubs and trees to reduce erosion.
- Dispose of household chemicals properly.
- Think before you clear land! Replace, re-seed, and replant bare ground.
- Give water more places to go. Plant a rain garden. When re-placing/installing driveways or sidewalks, use a porous pavement that allows storm water to infiltrate.
- Wash cars on grass to catch runoff.
- Don’t litter.
- Participate in local watershed clean-ups!