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What is a Watershed?
A watershed is the drainage area for a certain body of water. Imagine a drop of water falling from the sky. That drop falls on a hill. It will flow down the hill. Eventually, that drop of water will end up at the point of lowest elevation. See it animated in the YouTube clip. The drop could then infiltrate into the ground or flow into a body of water, in our case, the Red Clay Creek. Either way, the drop has drained into the Red Clay Creek watershed. The Red Clay Creek flows into the Christina River, which eventually flows into the Delaware River, which then drains into the Atlantic Ocean. This means that we all live in more than one watershed. If you live in the Red Clay watershed, you also live in the Christina watershed, the Delaware watershed AND the Atlantic watershed!
What is Watershed Education?
Watershed education is an interdisciplinary way to explore issues of local significance. Since watersheds are delineated by topography, and not political boundaries (state, county, township lines), this type of education fosters natural connections between people, places and all of the living and nonliving things that interact to create the communities (both natural and societal) in which we live.
Did you ever wonder...
Who were the Lenape and what did they eat?
What's the history of that old mill down the road?
Where does your drinking water come from?
When did scientists first notice the changes in local amphibian populations?
Why do some farmers create contour strips in their fields?
How do roads impact water quality?
Learning the answers is about taking a holistic approach to discovering
who, what, where, when, why AND how!
This is watershed education!
|Who were the Lenape and what did they eat? |
The Lenape are the original people who inhabited the Delaware Valley before the arrival of the Europeans in the early 1600s. Lenape means "Original People." They were primarily hunters and farmers. They would have grown corn, beans and squash and would have hunted deer, turkeys and small mammals. In the Red Clay watershed the Lenape would have also fished. For more information check out the official website of the Delaware Tribe of Indians.
|What's the history of that old mill down the road? |
The Brandywine and Red Clay Valleys were peppered with all kinds of mills. Early settlers took advantage of the Creeks to power grist mills and powder mills. Grist mills ground grains into flour and powder mills were used to make gunpowder. In particular, the DuPont Powder Mills, which opened in 1803 was the largest producer of explosive gun powder in the United States. Learn more by visiting the Hagley Museum and Library in Wilmington Delaware. Or, find out more about the mills.
|Where does your drinking water come from? |
If you live in the Red Clay watershed you probably get your drinking water from an underground well which taps an aquifer deep below the surface. Otherwise, your water comes from pipes underground which begin at a water treatment facility. Water treatment facilities get their water from both underground sources and surface water (Red Clay Creek). For a great description of how aquifers work visit Wikipedia.
| When did scientists first notice the changes in local amphibian populations? |
In the 1980's scientists began noticing startling declines in amphibian populations. An alarming number of individual frogs and salamanders were also identified with unusual deformations and mutations. Scientists have determined that 32% of global amphibian species are threatened. This is due to numerous reasons including water and air pollution and habitat loss. Amphibians appear to be especially sensitive to pollution because they have shell-less eggs, they have permeable skin and they spend part of their life in water. For this reason, they are considered to be an indicator species. An indicator species is a plant or animal whose absence or presence in an ecosystem can suggest certain conditions. Therefore, declines in amphibian populations may indicate that there are significant changes occurring in our water bodies.
There are 22 species of salamanders and 16 species of frogs and toads in Pennsylvania. Delaware is home to 14 species of frogs and toads and 13 species of salamanders. Learn more at the Pennsylvania Herpetological Atlas.
| Why do some farmers create contour strips in their fields? |
The most common pollutant in the Red Clay Creek is sediment. Sediments are released through the process of erosion. Erosion happens naturally and with human assistance. For example, after a farmer tills a field located on a hill, the loosened soil can move downhill (erode) and end up in the closest stream, especially following a rainfall. Contour strips are used on hilly terrain; rather than planting an entire hill in one crop, thereby increasing the potential for large amounts of soil running down hill, farmers cultivate at right angles to the natural slope. This almost eliminates the runoff of water by allowing it to soak back into an area that is not cultivated and can reduce soil erosion by more than 50%!
| How do roads impact water quality? |
All paved surfaces (including roads, parking lots and driveways) are not permeable to water. When it rains, water is not able to soak slowly back into the ground. Instead, water flows in sheets over these surfaces (collecting all kinds of oils, road salts, candy wrappers and cigarette butts along the way) eventually making its way to the closest storm drain which finally drains into a neighboring water body. The water does not get filtered in any way before entering that water body. You can imagine that all kinds of pollutants enter our Creek from impermeable surfaces.
The picture (right) features a frequently used maintenance road at the Myrick Conservation Center which features a porous paving system (above). These plastic cells allow water to soak back into the ground which means that it has a chance to get filtered AND recharge our aquifer!