What is a Watershed?
The land that water flows across, or under, on its way to a stream, river or lake. Within each watershed, all water runs to the lowest point – a stream, river or lake. On its way, water travels over several types of surfaces such as farm fields, forests, suburban lawns and city streets, or it seeps into the soil and travels as groundwater through aquifers.
Stressors. Impaired Waters. What does that mean?
By definition, a stressor is a chemical or biological agent, environmental condition, external stimulus or an event that causes stress to an organism.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) evaluates the status of surface waters within the State on a regular basis, and determines whether the properties of each specific section of water meets its designated use. These uses vary within the character of the surface water and surrounding watershed, and include such general uses as aquatic life, recreation, fish consumption, and potable water supply. Surface waters that do not meet the properties of their classification are identified as “impaired”. Nearly 26% of our streams in Berks County are impaired.
Many stressors impair our local waterways, among the most significant are impervious surfaces, stormwater, and agriculture. Agricultural effects on surface waters are the principal reason for classification of Berks County waters as impaired, and is the predominant land cover in our major watersheds. These impairments also have an effect on the downstream reservoirs like Lake Ontelaunee and Blue Marsh Lake. For context, it is important to note that a large fraction of Berks County is used for agriculture, and that many miles of streams traverse agricultural areas. Agricultural impacts on surface waters can be reduced by using land management techniques called Best Management Practices (BMPs). Likewise, there are BMPs that homeowners, institutions, and municipalities can install that reduce the effects of stormwater runoff.
Inside our Watersheds
Berks County plays an important role in the health of the Schuylkill River and ultimately the Delaware River Basin. Berks Nature, along with numerous partners and funders, are investing resources in protecting and improving natural resources in the watershed; as well as providing water education to thousands of residents.
Various factors lead to the destruction of our community’s waterways, including runoff from agriculture, stormwater, removal of vegetation, and misuse of pesticides and fertilizers. Do you ever stop and notice the conditions in our surface waters? What are our streams telling us about the health of our watersheds? Over 25% of Berks County’s streams are considered impaired. In order to improve the quality of our water, we must delve into the responsibilities we have as a community to create positive changes to the land surrounding our local streams.
Berks Nature’s Inside our Watersheds program, and this informative map, are designed to help our local community learn more about our local watersheds, streams, drinking water supplies, and what we can do to improve our community’s water quality.
Overall, what effects do our actions have on our watersheds? How can we (a community, an individual, a municipality, a student, a business-owner) improve the health of our watersheds, and ultimately our drinking water supplies?
Water matters to all of us.
Learn more today about this important, local resource.
Do you know where YOUR water comes from?
In Berks County you get your water from a private well, or from one of 63 different public water suppliers. In any case, it is good practice for you to learn exactly where your water comes from, and what is being done to protect it. We are all guilty of taking this important resource for granted as part of our daily routine when we shower, brush our teeth, cook our meals, wash the dishes, water the plants, and most importantly, take a drink. It is always there for us, but what do you really know about it? Where does it begin, and what is its journey into your home?
If you have a well, have you tested it recently? Be aware of changes in land use around you. New developments or land practices could affect your local groundwater quality or quantity. Visit http://mwon.cas.psu.edu – a good resource for well owners in Pennsylvania.
If you pay a bill, has your supplier completed a protection plan to protect your water supply? As of October 2015 the following public water systems have completed source water protection plans: Kutztown Borough, Lyons Borough Municipal Authority, Maxatawny Township, Reading Area Water Authority, Birdsboro Municipal Water Authority, Womelsdorf-Robesonia Joint Authority, Bernville Borough Authority, Boyertown Water Authority, Western Berks Water Authority, Oley Township Municipal Authority, PA American-Penn District, PA American-Glen Alsace, North Heidelberg Water System and Muhlenberg Township Authority.
Click here to see a list of all Berks County water suppliers! Your water supply may not come from the watershed you live in (unless you have a well). Call your water supplier and ask about the specific source of your drinking water.
Interactive Watershed Map
Many people care!
Berks County’s watersheds are receiving well-deserved attention.
90% of Berks County drains to the Schuylkill River Watershed which is part of the larger Delaware River Basin. This means that if you live or work in Berks County you likely have a direct effect on the health of this large watershed. What we do on our land matters to 15 million people that rely on drinking water supplies in the Delaware River Basin, including 200,000+ of us right here in Berks County!
It is important to remember that even if you don’t have a creek on your property, you are still part of the watershed and play an important role in protecting it.
There are four key stressors that have a significant impact on the health of our local watersheds: Loss of forested headwaters, agricultural run-off, polluted stormwater, and aquifer depletion. Currently there is a collection of partners that are working hard to improve these stressors in the Schuylkill River Watershed. One of these partnership projects is called the Delaware River Watershed Initiative. You might think, Delaware River – why does that matter to me in Berks County, PA? Remember, we are part of the Schuylkill River Watershed, which is part of the larger Delaware River Basin. It is all connected, the water, plants, soil, animals, people and buildings are all part of the same landscape and watershed.
Please note: While many people are familiar with the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, only 10% of Berks County drains to the bay. If you live along the southwestern border of Berks County, there is a chance you are part of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.
Delaware River Watershed Initiative
In an unprecedented collaboration to protect and restore water quality, more than 50 leading nonprofits (including Berks Nature) have joined together to accelerate conservation in eight Delaware River sub-watershed clusters. For more information on the watershed approach, visit www.williampennfoundation.org/what-we-fund-watershed-protection. For more information on the Delaware River Watershed Initiative and the organizations participating in the Initiative, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Get involved locally!
What is a Watershed Association?
A watershed association is simply a group of people interested in protecting their local water resources. Watershed associations can include individual citizens, farmers, students, non-profit conservation organizations, and local and state government representatives. Watershed associations often promote awareness of their local resources through community education, action, and monitoring. Currently, Berks County is home to the following active watershed-based groups:
- Maiden Creek Watershed Association
- Hay Creek Watershed Association
- Tulpehocken Chapter
- Trout Unlimited Angelica Creek Watershed Association
What is an EAC?
Environmental Advisory Councils (EACs) are officially created arms of Pennsylvania’s municipalities that focus on the environment. EACs act as advisors to the governing boards that appoint them and to the local planning commissions, giving municipal governments a pool of hometown talent to draw upon when they make decisions affecting the environmental resources in their communities. Any municipality in Pennsylvania may create an EAC by ordinance. Berks County has 17 EACs… are you included?
- Upper Bern
These groups are always looking for new faces and volunteers. Make a difference! Attend their next meeting to learn more.
Your Land – Do Your Part!
Individual landowners, businesses, municipalities, and school campuses impact the watershed (good and bad) with every land management decision that they make. There are many inexpensive options to consider in managing your land in a way that keeps our watersheds healthy. There are local experts that can help guide you to make decisions like: what you mow, how you manage your gravel driveway, what types of trees to plant, how you till your land, how to fertilize, how to create a schoolyard or backyard habitat, wildflower meadows, permanently protecting land from development, and more!
These land management techniques are called Best Management Practices (BMPs). Since much of Berks County’s land use is agriculture, we implement BMPs on many farms to help improve the environmental stressors associated with agricultural practices. Our goal is happy farmers, and improved land and water resources! This graphic describes the types of BMP projects that can occur on farms.
As rain or melting snow drains off of the land to a creek it can pick up pollutants such as pesticides, fertilizers, loose soil, road salt, and dog waste. This is called Stormwater Runoff Pollution, and is a major stressor in the Schuylkill River Watershed. It becomes a significant concern in urbanized areas such as boroughs and the City of Reading where excess stormwater can not only lead to pollution, but also stream/river damage and dangerous flooding.
Berks County is leading several initiatives to deal with the complex issues related to stormwater. About 40 municipalities in Berks County are required to have a National Pollutant Discharge Eliminations System (NPDES) permit to discharge stormwater from their municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4). We refer to them as MS4 communities. A Berks County MS4 Steering Committee (comprised of these MS4 communities) was formed to address the permit requirements on a regional level. In addition, the Berks County Water & Sewer Association is a unique partnership to address our public water and sewer issues in our county. While it sounds quite confusing, it is important for you to know if you live in a MS4 community and what you can do to help.
Want to learn even more about watersheds? The US Environmental Protection Agency has a lot of general information on watersheds. Explore today!: