What is a watershed?  

A watershed is the area of land that water flows across or under on its way to a single river.  In the Cacapon River watershed (see map below), water flows down from various mountain ridges into the Cacapon River basin.  On its way to the river, water travels over the surface and across farm fields, forest land, residential lawns, and city streets, or it seeps into the soil and travels as ground water.  Large watersheds are made up of many small watersheds.  

The Cacapon River Watershed, for instance, is made up of three major river segments and many smaller watersheds.  The headwaters region of the Cacapon River, known as the Lost River, receives water from a watershed covering 178 square miles.  The largest tributary of the Cacapon is the North River, which drains 206 sq. mi. -- an area comparable to that of the Lost River.  Overall, the Cacapon River watershed includes the Lost and North River watersheds, and those of many smaller streams for a total of 680 square miles.  The Cacapon Watershed is itself part of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. 

Cacapon Watershed (click to enlarge)

The Watershed Community  

People influence what happens in their watershed, good or bad, by how they treat the natural resources--the water, soil, air, plants, and animals.  What happens in their small watershed also affects the larger watershed downstream.  For example, any source of water pollution in the watershed, even if it's far away from the river, can eventually make its way into the river.

Sources of Pollution

POINT SOURCE POLLUTION comes from an easily identifiable source, like a factory or a sewage treatment plant that is piping waste products into the river.  Flow of pollutants from point sources is regulated, fairly constant and predictable.

NON-POINT SOURCE POLLUTION washes off the landscape from a broad array of hard-to-control sources such as flow from streets, parking lots, lawns, fields, barnyards and construction sites.  Flow of pollutant from non-point sources is very unpredictable, and mostly occurs when rain and snowmelt wash the surface of the land.  This type of pollution is currently not regulated.

Because point sources are now regulated, their impact has been vastly reduced in recent years.  However, non-point source pollution has become the primary source of pollution in rivers, as indicated by the chart below.

In the Cacapon River watershed, we are fortunate enough to have few point sources of pollution.  There are strong concerns, however, about non-point source pollution in the watershed, particularly from agricultural runoff carrying bacteria, nutrients, and sediment.

Tips to prevent non-source pollution in your watershed  "Riparia"--the riverbank corridors of vegetation that defend the river against a wide range of threats--need to be protected and restored.  Healthy riparia filter pollution, prevent erosion, and reduce flooding.  If you own land along the river, try to keep a 100-foot-wide band of vegetation along the riverbank.  Don't let livestock trample the area and enter the river.  If your riparia is degraded, plant trees and shrubs and take other steps to reduce erosion.

Other tips to prevent non-point source pollution:

bulletDon't over fertilize lawns, gardens, or farm fields.
bulletDispose of animal waste in a way that keeps it from washing into the river.
bulletIf you have a septic system near the river, make sure it is operating properly.



Cacapon Institute - From the Cacapon to the Potomac to the Chesapeake Bay, we protect rivers and watersheds using science and education.

Cacapon Institute
PO Box 68
High View, WV 26808
304-856-1385 (tele)
304-856-1386 (fax)
Click here to send us an email
Frank Rodgers,  Executive Director

Website  made possible by funding from The Norcross Wildlife Foundation,  the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Virginia Environmental Endowment, NOAA-BWET, USEPA, The MARPAT Foundation, and our generous members.