The back of Jason’s yard backs up to a creek that drains into the Ralston Creek watershed. This area was once overgrown with invasive plants and dense trees. Jason has opened up the canopy and cleared out invasives giving struggling native plants the advantage. Garlic mustard was successfully hand-pulled and the tree-of-heaven was girdled. The deep roots of native plants that emerged help reduce erosion by holding the soil in place during heavy rains. The natives simultaneously aerate the soil and feed insects.
A watershed is drainage basin that collects water (from rain or snow melt) and channels the drainage into increasingly larger streams and rivers. A particular watershed includes every square inch of soil within that drainage basin.
The creek behind Jason’s house is part of the Ralston Creek watershed, which in turn is part of the Iowa River watershed, which eventually becomes part of the Mississippi River watershed (which drains most of the area between the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachian Mountains.) Do you know which watersheds you live in?
Watersheds serve as natural networks that connect us with both our closest and our distant neighbors. Whatever our upstream neighbors put into their waterways affects us and all our downstream neighbors. Any steps we can take to cleanse our local watersheds improves the quality of life for all downstream humans, animals, and plants.
The stream miles in Iowa have dramatically increased since our settlement here. Prairies, with their deep root systems, once acted as a sponge, soaking up massive amounts of water and cleaning it at the same time. Just a couple hundred years ago, our streams and rivers ran clear—they were not filled with the sediment and debris found in today’s waterways.