No matter where you go, from small towns to big cities, down on the farm or back at the ranch, you're always in a watershed. They come in all shapes and sizes, from millions of square miles to just a few acres. A watershed is an area of land that catches rainfall and melting snow, which in turn, drain into low lying bodies of water. Each one is a dynamic, unique place we call home. It's where we live, work and play. And, how we do each of those things affects the water in the watershed.
Only one percent of all the water on earth is fresh water. So you can see why it's so important to protect our streams, rivers and lakes. Since there's only a small amount of clean water to go around, we can't afford to waste a single drop. Watershed planning looks at the entire watershed picture, evaluating its strengths and weaknesses and developing workable protection plans called Best Management Practices.
We can't simply blame all of our pollution problems on big factories or waste treatment plants. And, while none of us like to think of ourselves as polluters, we make an impact on the environment, too. Nonpoint Source Pollution happens when runoff from rainwater, snowmelt and irrigation carries pollutants such as garden fertilizers, pesticides, automotive oil, construction debris, and even yard and pet wastes into the water we use every day. Polluted runoff can also harm wildlife, devalue property and damage the landscape.
The 319 Grant Program provides money to stakeholder groups for water quality projects in their communities. Projects can include information and education, innovative pollution prevention practices, or improvements to a water quality problem or site. The State Revolving Fund is the flagship program of the Financial Services Section. It's a federally subsidized, low-interest, leveraged-loan program. The Water Protection Program administers several grants and loans that help finance the construction of wastewater treatment facilities to improve surface and ground water quality.
One of the tools we use to protect our water is a TMDL study. That stands for the Total Maximum Daily Load calculation of the maximum amount of a given pollutant a waterbody can absorb before its quality is affected. That sounds like a mouthful, but think of it like this; when you don't feel well, you often take your temperature. If it's above 98.6, you generally take steps to bring your fever down to normal. A TMDL works the same way. It tells us something is wrong with a body of water and indicates a course of treatment to fix the problem.
A variety of stakeholder groups continue to provide input and insight to help the Water Protection Program streamline its permitting process. The program currently issues roughly 2,500 permits a year. It's essential that the permitting process operate in such a way that it gives something of value back to the regulated community. Developing decent working relationships with these stakeholder groups is a top priority. Permits provide opportunities for everyone involved to make informed decisions about water resource protection. Permits are the yardsticks that help us measure our success.
Keeping our watershed in good shape is critical for a healthy environment and economy. You can help by learning about the activities that take place in your watershed and understanding the problems that need your attention. Practicing water conservation at home and at work, volunteering, joining a water monitoring group, attending public meetings and getting involved in the planning process will all help improve our water quality and our quality of life.