Love it or hate it, those of us in the northern and western reaches of the Chesapeake Bay watershed have already gotten a lot of snow and ice this December. Bing Crosby may dream of it, but according to regional biologists, heavy winter precipitation can mean more algal blooms in the Bay this summer. Runoff from melting winter snowfall carries with it nutrients from fields, lawns, roads and more. The more snow there is, the more pollution it can pick up along the way. Those nutrients, combined with increasing sunlight in the spring and summer, feed algal blooms that deplete oxygen levels in water when they die and decompose. Without oxygen, fish and other creatures can’t survive.
The solution of course isn’t to be a Grinch and curse the festive holiday snow, but to reduce polluted runoff in the first place. Farmers can get help from the Natural Resources Conservation Service and their partners in the Gaining Ground project. Residents in Clarke County, VA’s Spout Run watershed can become involved in the C Spout Run restoration project. Those in Loudoun and Fauquier County’s Goose Creek watershed can participate in the Goose Creek Association’s Goose Creek Challenge by planting trees to stabilize stream banks. If you’re putting up a Christmas tree, The Nature Conservancy says buy a live one. Artificial trees are made from petroleum products, are often manufactured overseas, and then consume more energy being shipped to the store. In contrast, live trees help hold soil in place, take up nutrients and carbon dioxide, and produce oxygen. Tree farms specializing in Christmas trees replant those that are cut, and typically leave them in the ground for six or eight years before harvesting again.
Regardless, everyone can promote clean water by through year-end contributions to local water conservation groups (like The Downstream Project). Together we can reduce polluted runoff, eliminate algal blooms and fearlessly sing: “let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.”