Imagine Chautauqua County as a living, breathing entity, with water as its lifeblood. Just as our own health depends on a well-functioning immune system, the health of our waterbodies relies on the functioning of their surrounding watersheds. I like to think of this relationship between water and watershed as preventative medicine – no matter how much time and money we put into our waterbodies, we aren’t going to see long-term sustainable improvement unless we repair and protect their surrounding watersheds. By viewing watershed protection through this lens of preventative medicine, we uncover a powerful approach to preserving our precious water resources.
Preventative medicine operates on the principle that detecting and addressing issues early can prevent them from becoming more serious down the line. Similarly, a healthy watershed serves as a barrier against pollution and habitat degradation. By preserving the natural state of a watershed – maintaining forests, wetlands, and grasslands – we effectively intercept potential pollutants before they infiltrate our waterbodies. Just as a healthy well-balanced diet can ward off heart disease, a well-protected watershed safeguards water quality before contamination becomes a problem.
Protecting our watersheds also makes us more resilient. In the realm of medicine, a strong immune system equips the body to fend off diseases. Similarly, a robust watershed acts as a natural defense mechanism for waterbodies. Wetlands act as sponges, absorbing excess rainwater and mitigating floods. Forests stabilize soil, reducing erosion and sediment runoff. By preserving these natural buffers, we build resilience within our watersheds, making them better equipped to handle stressors such as heavy rains or human activities.
Preventative medicine focuses on treating the underlying causes of health issues rather than just the symptoms. We know that investing in preventative medicine saves both lives and resources by avoiding expensive treatments for advanced diseases. Similarly, investing in watershed protection saves us all money in the long run. By preventing pollution and increasing our resiliency to large storm events, we minimize the need for expensive infrastructure repairs, habitat restoration efforts, and water treatment, and we lessen the need for expensive in-lake cleanup each summer.
Of course, I recognize that no matter how well we eat or how much we exercise, there’s no way to prevent every single cold or injury. The same is true for our waterways. But by taking a more holistic approach, focusing our efforts on watershed protection, we are recognizing the interconnectedness of our land, water, and ecosystems. By conserving our watersheds, we are doing everything in our power to protect the health of our waterbodies, support aquatic life, our recreational activities, our economy, and the well-being of our communities. Thinking of watershed protection as preventative medicine illuminates a profound truth: our actions today shape the health of our waterbodies tomorrow. Just as we adopt healthy habits to ensure we are around as long as possible for our children and grandchildren, safeguarding our watersheds is our responsibility to ensure our waterways are here and usable for those same children. As we embrace this preventive approach, we secure a brighter future – one where waterbodies thrive, ecosystems flourish, and we all continue to enjoy the waters we love!
Article by Whitney Gleason, Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy Executive Director
Photo of shoreline pickerel weed at Cassadaga Lakes Nature Preserve by Twan Leenders, Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy Director of Conservation