The Importance of a Clean Watershed

The Importance of a Clean Watershed

December 1, 2022  

 The Importance of a Clean Watershed 

       The Ocean has become the ultimate dumping ground for civilization, as noted by Robert Engler in the text "Ocean Dumping". It has become apparent that the Oceans and their delicate ecosystems are under serious threat from the last 50 years of the constant dumping of everything from sewage (treated and untreated), industrial waste, military wastes (munitions and chemicals), entire ships, trash, garbage, dredged material, construction debris, and radioactive wastes (both high- and low-level). The list is endless, and the magnitude unprecedented.  The scope and scale of this abuse is apparent visually from satellite. Satellites have been tracking the 620,000 square miles of waste floating on top of the Ocean (Teague). It is now believed that 80% of this waste comes from the inland watersheds of the world (Parker). We can reduce our impact on the environment by reducing the amount of waste that enters the oceans through the watershed.  

Robert William writes in the text "Watershed Protection and Soil Conservation" that “Watersheds are tracts of land that feed pools of water both above and below ground. They funnel rainfall and snowmelt” for example, through wetlands, which are natural filtration systems. The spongy soil constituting a wetland traps sediment sometimes carrying pollutants. The water trickling down becomes increasingly free of contaminants as it makes its way down to replenish underground aquifers, which humans draw on for drinking water. Land composition varies in a watershed. A single watershed may consist of mountains, prairie and/or rolling hills. Watersheds left unprotected from Human overdevelopment will suffer environmental impacts that deplete soil resources. Logging, grazing, some types of mining, paving over land with impervious surfaces, and excessive rechanneling of major watercourses that have affected watersheds in negative ways. Many farmers and environmentalists want to prevent soil depletion by protecting watersheds. Communities want to protect watersheds for water quality.  

       A watershed, aka, a “drainage basin,” is the area of land that collects precipitation and delivers it to a water body. Watersheds link changes on the land to changes in freshwater ecosystems. An awareness of these connections helped shape early federal conservation efforts in the United States. Yet, patterns of land use continue to degrade water bodies. In response, many communities have developed watershed-based institutions for land and water conservation.  

In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is charged with protecting the quality of surface waters, including streams, lakes, and coastal waters. The Clean Water Act as amended in 1977 provides the legal basis for the protection of the quality of surface water but did not reach onto the beaches of our oceans and the banks of our watersheds (Hoekstra). The responsibility to protect and preserve these delicate environments rests in the hands of the local communities that are indigenous to it. On a larger scale the control of solid waste falls under a different division within the EPA. The Office of Solid Waste regulates all solid waste under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), which regulates the treatment and disposal of municipal solid waste and hazardous waste. Households create municipal solid waste, which consists of paper, yard trimmings, glass, and other solid or semisolid materials. Industrial and manufacturing processes create mixtures of municipal solid wastes, hazardous waste, and other wastes such as construction-demolition debris. Some solid wastes, such as animal waste, radioactive materials, or medical waste, are managed by other government agencies and laws. 

Despite environmental regulations that protect the quality of streams, lakes, and wetlands, solid waste in the form of trash, litter, and garbage often ends up in these surface waters. The observations noted by Richmond, et al in the text, "Pollution of Streams by Garbage and Trash". The most common waste in U.S. streams is household trash, including plastic cups, plastic bags and wrapping materials, fast-food wrappers, plastic bottles, and other plastic containers (Richmond et al.). Rivers are the primary conduits for plastic waste to the seas. In 2017, two separate groups of scientists concluded that 90 percent of river-borne plastic waste that flushes into the oceans is conveyed by just a handful of large, continental rivers, including the Nile, Amazon, and Yangtze, the world’s three longest rivers. Cleaning up those rivers—10 rivers were named in one study and 20 in the other—could go a long way toward solving the problem, experts agreed (Parker). New research published today in Science Advances has turned that thinking on its head. Scientists found that 80 percent of plastic waste is distributed by more than 1,000 rivers, not simply 10 or 20. They also found that most of that waste is carried by small rivers that flow through densely populated urban areas, not the largest rivers (Parker). 

Plastic is having a profound effect on everything on the planet. Plastic is often consumed by marine wildlife indecently. "Depending on their form they can either be ingested, causing internal organ failure, or they can cause a slow strangulation” (Engler). For instance, when a whale feeds it opens its great jaws and swims through schools of fish and plankton. Plastic suspended in the water is swallowed and consumed. According to the United Nations, at least 800 species worldwide are affected by marine debris, and as much as 80 percent of that litter is plastic. 80% of this plastic originated somewhere in an inland watershed (Parker). We have created this problem and only we can solve it, by stopping the pollution of our watersheds. 

The plastic in our oceans is a huge problem, Tatiana Luján’s text reportedYou can find plastic in the Mariana Trench – the deepest oceanic trench on Earth.  In 2016, an estimated 11% of the world’s plastic waste (about 19 to 23 million metric Tonnes), entered our rivers, seas, and oceans”. We now know that we can effect change on 80% of this plastic by addressing it before it enters our watersheds. Without a real effort on the part of the human species, the Ellen McArthur foundation has predicted that by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean, and that is turning out to be an underestimation. (Lujan) The bottom line here is we must  lead by example and initiate Earth’s clean it up! 

         Most watershed problems are inherently local; thus, many efforts at watershed conservation have emerged from local or regional institutions such as community watershed councils or river advocacy groups. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Writes that “the majority of pollutants that make their way into the ocean come from human activities along the coastlines and far inland.” This is the waste moved by heavy rains washing into the watersheds. Effective watershed conservation requires cooperation between community advocates, private interests, local, state, and federal government agencies. There is historical precedent for organizing political institutions within watershed boundaries to improve the management of water resources and the watersheds that embrace them.     




  We can reduce our impact on the environment by reducing the amount of waste that enters the oceans through the watershed. Rivers are the watershed elements that are the primary conduits for plastic waste to the seas. Cleaning up those riverbanks and streams in our local watersheds could go a long way toward solving the problem, experts agreed. 

“We the people” is everybody! We are talking to you here! You must become active and personally involved in the greatest challenge of modern times. This is where we start to come together as one people just like in the movies. That is what is necessary to begin to slow the meltdown of our environment and maintain the delicate balance of this amazing planet. We, the people of the world, must collectively work together to stop waste from entering the oceans. This simply means we must pick up the trash and dispose of it properly everywhere in the world. It must start right here at home, now!  


Works Cited  

Collin, Robert William. "Watershed Protection and Soil Conservation." Encyclopedia of Contemporary American Social Issues, edited by Michael Shally-Jensen, vol. 4: Environment, Science, and Technology, ABC-CLIO, 2011, pp. 1672-1677. Gale eBooks, Accessed 1 Dec. 2022. 

EPA's Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery, office-resource-conservation-and-recovery-orcr, Accessed 1 Dec. 2022. 






Richmond, Elliot, and Cindy Clendenon. "Pollution of Streams by Garbage and Trash." Water: Science and Issues, edited by E. Julius Dasch, vol. 3, Macmillan Reference USA, 2003, pp. 229-233. Gale eBooks, Accessed 1 Dec. 2022. 

Engler, Robert M. "Ocean Dumping." Pollution A to Z, edited by Richard M. Stapleton, vol. 2, Macmillan Reference USA, 2004, pp. 78-83. Gale eBooks, Accessed 1 Dec. 2022. 

Hoekstra, Jon D. "Watersheds." Encyclopedia of American Environmental History, edited by Kathleen A. Brosnan, vol. 4, Facts on File, 2011, pp. 1373-1374. Gale eBooks, Accessed 1 Dec. 2022. 

Luján, Tatiana.Is plastic affecting the ocean as a carbon sink?” ClientEarth, 

Parker, Laura. “Plastic Gets to the Oceans through over 1,000 Rivers.” National Geographic, April 30, 2021, 








Page Break 



Reddy, Simon. “Plastic Pollution Affects Sea Life Throughout the Ocean” Pew Charitable Trusts, September 24, 2018 


Teague, Katie. “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch: What to Know About the Floating Islands of Trash.” CNET, June 8, 2022,


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