Good Watershed Keeping

Posted: July 16, 2012

Pennsylvania is a water-rich state with six watersheds. Water that collects in local streams flows down through the watershed finally reaching a saltwater body, so what you do in the watershed is felt many hundreds of miles away.
Art depiction of land protected with conservation buffers and other practices. Artist is Scott Patton, NRCS.

Art depiction of land protected with conservation buffers and other practices. Artist is Scott Patton, NRCS.

Five of Pennsylvania’s six watersheds end at the Atlantic Ocean. Two of our smaller watersheds are in the Great Lakes Basin. The area around Erie drains into Lake Erie and the Genesee watershed in Potter County ends up in Lake Ontario. The Delaware River drains into the Delaware Bay and has the most people in it, although it is not the largest. That is the Susquehanna River watershed, which drains two-thirds of the state and flows into the Chesapeake Bay. A portion of Potomac River watershed located on the southern border of the state also drains into the Chesapeake Bay, which drains into the Atlantic Ocean.

In western Pennsylvania water that collects in local streams flows into the Ohio River and eventually into the Mississippi River. Ultimately, what happens in those backyards affects the Gulf of Mexico.

Sometimes uncomplicated things can help to improve water quality in every watershed

Installing rain gardens and rain barrels are but two techniques used on residential lots to improve the water quality. For home owners, these techniques are perfect opportunities to prevent erosion and conserve water on their property; however for farmers there may be additional actions that can be implemented. Conservation practices such as streambank fencing or sacrifice lots are techniques that can be considered.

One of the most common practices advocated by watershed organizations, conservation districts and other agencies is streambank fencing. By limiting the access of livestock to the streams, farmers can directly improve the quality of water flowing through their pastures and property. Streambank fencing enables vegetation to grow on the banks and develop root systems that help to control erosion and stabilize the banks, particularly during high water periods. In addition to improving the banks, stream fencing also limits the amount of animal waste entering the stream, decreasing the levels of bacteria introduced into the water, and improving herd health. The increased vegetation also acts as a buffer to control polluted runoff into the streams. Fencing and buffering a stream are cost effective techniques a farmer can employ on their farm to improve water quality.

Another effective technique is creating a sacrifice lot in the pasture management system. Sacrifice lots are an area that animals can be moved to when pastures, barnyards, or exercise lots are excessively wet or when grass stands need to be regenerated. When used in a pasture management system, the sacrifice lot is used in rotation with other designated pastures to ensure that the main pastures stay vegetated and don’t suffer from soil compaction. Sacrifice lots can also be constructed to contain nutrients, preventing them from running off into surface water.

We all share the resources of the watershed, and bear the responsibility of being good stewards. So, whether you live on a farm, in a town or in the suburbs, there are things you can do to protect our waters.

To learn more about rain barrels and rain gardens:

To learn more about agriculture and water quality:

Contact Information

Diane Oleson, M.S.
  • Extension Educator, Renewable Natural Resources
Phone: 717-840-7429