Green Tips: Understanding New York’s Watersheds

Green Tips | June 1, 2018

As we celebrate Chesapeake Bay Awareness Week, we remember the environmental, ecological, and economic significance of the estuary and how its conservation is imperative to the United States as a whole.  As part of the Choose Clean Water Coalition, we support the restoration and conservation of the Chesapeake Bay and advocate for clean water in all sources that empty into the bay. 

Obstacles facing conservation in the Chesapeake Bay are made clear once one understands the many watersheds in New York.  One of these is the Susquehanna River Watershed, the ultimate source of the Chesapeake and its headwaters.  Here are some interesting facts about New York’s watersheds, including the Susquehanna River Watershed and its relevance to the Chesapeake Bay:

  1. Everyone (including all New Yorkers) lives in a watershed. There are 17 larger watersheds or major drainage basins in New York. You can identify the watershed you live in using this map.
  1. The Susquehanna River Watershed/drainage basin is the second largest east of the Mississippi River. It includes almost 9,000 miles of rivers and streams in the south-central portion of New York. The Susquehanna River itself is 444 miles long (148 miles in New York state) and drains more than 27,000 square miles including not only New York but large parts of Pennsylvania and Maryland as well, emptying into the Chesapeake Bay.  In fact, almost four million people live within the watershed following the river.
  1. People can harm the environment by polluting watersheds. Pollutants such as septic waste, pesticides, fertilizers, and other chemicals related to human activity can be detrimental to watersheds, and can even lead to bodies of water downstream of the watersheds becoming unhealthy habitats for humans and other organisms. These pollutants along with urban stormwater runoff compose the largest sources of waterbody damage in New York. 
  1. The Susquehanna River suffers from pollution. While the water quality in the Susquehanna River Watershed in New York has generally been deemed satisfactory, the majority of the water in the basin is still unassessed. According to the DEC, the most significant pollution in the watershed in New York is from agricultural activity.  This pollution finds its way into the Susquehanna River and is multiplied in its journey through Pennsylvania to the Chesapeake Bay. 
  1. Drinking water ultimately comes from watersheds. The state of New York has more than 87,000 miles of rivers and streams alone, not counting lakes and ponds. These waterbodies run through watersheds and provide us water, so let’s keep them healthy! 
  1. The Delaware River Watershed provides drinking water to 15 million people in four states, including New York State. As part of the Delaware River Watershed Initiative, we are working with groups from across the watershed area to protect and conserve this vital water source through stormwater management, building green infrastructure, and preventing pollution. 
  1. The Susquehanna River Watershed and river basin provide drinking water to 1 million people. This includes people from all states that the river runs through.
  1. You can help protect New York’s watersheds. Small actions produce large results! You can help prevent watershed and waterbody pollution by taking simple steps. Conserving water, limiting what you put down the drain (sinks, toilets, etc.), sweeping sidewalks rather than hosing them off, and using commercial carwashes are all ways to protect watersheds in New York. 
  1. Protecting the Susquehanna River Watershed will help conserve the Chesapeake Bay. Currently, the largest amount of pollution in the Chesapeake Bay comes from the Susquehanna River.  As a part of the Choose Clean Water Coalition, NYLCV supports the protection of the Chesapeake Bay on a federal, state, and local level.  You can help protect the Chesapeake as well by supporting campaigns prioritizing clean water issues, and by taking the simple steps stated earlier to protect your watershed.
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