Going with the Flow, Online

Spout Run flows to the Shenandoah River, which flows to the Potomac, which flows to the Chesapeake Bay…
(photo by Bill Howard)

Here at The Downstream Project (TDP), we’re big believers in getting outside and knowing your place. After all, what better way to see firsthand how we all live downstream? But we’re also big believers in the power of technology. And these days there are more tools than ever to help people understand how their local tributary or river connects with the larger world, and how their actions affect the health of an entire watershed.

Those who want the full body scan should check out the national Streamer map of the United States. Go to any river or stream anywhere in the country, click on it, and watch the red lines spread upstream or downstream across the map like arteries connecting parts of a living body. So, for example, you can trace the Shenandoah River upstream  from its confluence with the Potomac at Harper’s Ferry, and follow the capillaries stretching south of Charlottesville and west far beyond the Blue Ridge. Like a circulatory system for the land, these tributaries carry materials from distant locations into the main channel, and affect the chemistry, biology and health of surrounding areas.

If you’d rather be a raindrop instead of lymphocyte, check out the Virginia Museum of Natural History’s  watershed map.  Click on one of the 8 designated locations and travel downriver out to sea by some pretty extraordinary routes.  Those of us in the Potomac watershed (which includes the Shenandoah River) tend to associate Virginia with the Chesapeake Bay. But depending on where you fall as a raindrop, you could travel via the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to the Gulf of Mexico, or through North Carolina to Albemarle Sound, before reaching the Atlantic.

What gets carried through these tributaries, capillaries (or whatever you choose to call them) depends on thousands of activities taking place along each route each day. EPA’s National Stormwater Calculator helps developers, planners and others make healthy choices for watersheds site by site. It combines information on local rainfall, soil conditions, land use and more to calculate stormwater runoff from specific locations, and provides options for reducing the amount of pollution in that runoff.

Green roofs, porous pavement and other tools act as preventive medicine for waterways by filtering out pollution before it enters the system. Ignorance used to be bliss. But these tools make knowing your place a lot easier than it used to be, and in many ways, a lot more fun.


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