Building Your Relationship with Water
Posted: April 2, 2012
When is the last time that you paid a visit to the water that supports your community? If the winter has kept you indoors, you have been a little too busy to spend some time outside, or if you have never really considered a visit to your local stream, now is the time. On March 22, we celebrate World Water Day which is an international day of awareness and advocacy for sustainable management of freshwater resources, conceived by the United Nations in 1993. Exactly one month later, on April 22, we celebrate the 42nd Earth Day, now recognized globally, but started in the United States in 1970 to increase the American consciousness of environmental issues. Both of these events are great opportunities to reinvigorate your awareness of the water that runs through your neighborhood.
So what do you do when you visit a stream? First and foremost, take your children, grandchildren, nieces, or nephews with you. You might already enjoy recreational activities that take place in or around water. Spend the day fishing, canoeing or kayaking, hiking a streamside trail, bird watching, wildflower viewing, or snapping some great outdoor photographs. Better yet, spend some time actually exploring the stream itself. Does it appear healthy? Are there noticeable signs of trouble in the stream, like garbage, cloudy or muddy water, steep and eroding banks? Not all water quality issues are obvious just by looking from the banks. If it’s safe and you won’t cause environmental disturbance, take some time exploring what types of living things you can find in the stream. Flip over a few rocks and see if there are any aquatic macroinvertebrates clinging underneath. Aquatic macroinvertebrates are water-dwelling (aquatic) animals that are large enough to see with the naked eye (macro) and have no backbone (invertebrate). These animals are great indicators of water quality because they are sensitive to changes in their ecosystem and the presence or absence of particular types of macroinvertebrates in your stream can help provide an overall picture of the water quality there. The 4-H Water Project Unit 3: Water Quality Matters! has a guide to help you identify what you find and relate it to the local water quality.
Here are just a few important reminders about being considerate and knowing local regulations before visiting your stream. Make sure that you are accessing your local stream from public property or with landowner permission. If the stream runs through private property, it is trespassing to visit there under most circumstances. If you don’t have stream access on your own property, try visiting at a community park, state forest or park lands, or other location where public use is permitted. Also, don’t climb down steep banks to get into a stream, or trample sensitive areas to gain access. Look for existing paths and shallow entrances to minimize your environmental disturbance. Finally, make sure you know what the fishing regulations are for your stream. Even if you are not fishing, using small hand nets to catch macroinvertebrates is regulated by fishing laws. Anyone 16 and older must have a fishing license. Even just flipping over the rocks to find macros can be a disturbance during trout stocking seasons. If your local stream is considered Approved Trout Waters in Pennsylvania, it is closed to all fishing from March 1 to April 14, or March 31 if you are in one of the 18 southeastern counties opening early.
No matter how you choose to experience your local stream, be certain to take a moment and reflect on how important water is to you. Think of all the ways you use water directly during the day (drinking, bathing, laundering, and more), but don’t forget about the amount of freshwater that you use indirectly as well. It takes water to produce your food, grow fiber materials for fabric and wood, produce electricity, and so much more. Water is also an important part of our environment, supporting wildlife habitat and providing for the many recreational opportunities you participate in. Be sure to share these important reflections with the children in your lives so that they may one day be responsible stewards for the water too.
Jennifer R. Fetter
Extension Educator – Watershed/Youth Development
Renewable Natural Resources Team
Penn State Extension