Loving Our Local Waters – A Healthy NEPA Ecosystem

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Water is connection. Once you pour one glass of water into another, they are mixed forever. Any waterway will find another – a drop of rain falling on the tallest tree on Pennsylvania’s tallest mountain can travel all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. But if you focus only on water, you don’t see the big picture!

A healthy watershed is linked to a healthy ecosystem, and it’s all about balance. This means that what happens to NEPA waters can affect all of us. Obviously, these waters are where we (and other living things) drink and play. It allows lush vegetation and varied invertebrates. It is home to fish and amphibians. No matter how you eat, work or play, NEPA waters will be involved. Whichever way you look at it, almost everything we appreciate here at NEPA owes some gratitude to our healthy waterways.

The wood frog is an amphibian commonly found in NEPA.

A healthy watershed works behind the scenes to help our lands withstand extreme weather conditions, making areas less susceptible to flash flooding or short-term drought. This stability also allows for more varied plant life, which in turn supports more grazing animals, which in turn allows for a healthy predator population. This is because organisms living in a healthy ecosystem are better able to resist illness and disease. But like any tricky system, small changes can drastically tip the scales.

The biggest threats to NEPA’s healthy waters are pollution, rising temperatures and invasive species. And believe it or not, it’s all connected too! When we talk about “pollution”, we really mean any contaminant that causes harmful changes. So while litter may be the first thing that comes to mind, the greatest damage comes from sewage and sewage, fertilizers, antibiotics, and microplastics that can enter soil or surface water. When they enter the water cycle, detergents and other chemicals can harm beneficial native species, while excess fertilizer can lead to algae blooms. Combined with suspended sediments and microplastics, imbalanced water systems tend to absorb more sunlight, heating the body of water above normal temperatures. Warm water can hold less dissolved oxygen, while many aquatic species like Pennsylvania’s state fish, brook trout, need cool, oxygen-rich streams to thrive. Without healthy competition from native species, invasive species like didymo, curly pondweed and zebra mussel can quickly disrupt an ecosystem.

Runoff once caused murky water at Hanover Crossings Marsh.

Many NEPA waters are constantly balancing and rebalancing in response to changes in the environment, but we can all help. Many solutions require community or government support, such as maintaining native vegetation buffers or stormwater catch basins. Many other solutions are easy (and important) for all of us to integrate, even if you only occasionally take a dip in NEPA waters.

The best way for an individual to keep contaminants out of the watershed is to sequester or safely store household waste. What that specifically means is up to you! If you’re an artist, sequestering your waste would be like letting unusable paint harden before throwing it away. If you’re a car enthusiast, that might mean taking used motor oil to a recycling center or auto parts store to be refined and reused. Even small changes like swapping a front yard car wash for a drive-thru option can mean wastewater is treated and recycled rather than entering the watershed where it can raise temperatures. water and help invasive species thrive.

Bluegill sunfish is a common species in NEPA waters.

If you enjoy boating, swimming, hiking, or kayaking around NEPA waters, you can also be an important advocate against the spread of these aquatic invasive species. While some invade an area through natural waterways, much of their spread occurs through “hitchhiking”. These species often attach themselves to a hull, skid, or motor when it leaves one body of water and attaches to another. Taking the time to wipe down gear before moving is the best way to keep an eye out for hitchhikers.

Want to be an even bigger watershed advocate? Learn how to identify the most problematic aquatic invasive species in your area and report them to PA iMap Invasives.

The Hanover Crossings Marsh is now one of the NBLT’s Protected Nature Reserves.

NEPA’s natural resources are our region’s greatest treasures and they can thrive on our wondrous waters. Whether you’re fishing, swimming, splashing or just enjoying a cool glass of water in the air conditioning, we hope you’ll take the time to consider a few small changes to have a big impact on the health of our local waters!

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