Shedding Light on Water by Harriet L. Rola
Prevalent rainfall this past summer dispelled any concerns of drought. A well-hydrated environment can convince us that water is plentiful and there is no need for conservation. Water is a finite resource. What we have now is all we will ever have. The Earth is covered by 71 percent water, only 3 percent is fresh and just 1 percent is accessible for use. That 1 percent brings to light that conserving and protecting water is a top priority.
Water conservation and protection are necessary with a burgeoning human population and the presence of non-point source pollution. Four common types are lawn/garden fertilizers and chemicals, roadway petroleum and metal residues from automobiles, sediment and litter. These pollutants end up in water bodies, such as Newton Creek, when carried by rainwater runoff.
The headwater spring for the main branch of Newton Creek is located in Saddler’s Woods, Haddon Township. From the spring, the tributary to the Newton is Saddler’s Run. These woods are critical to filtering and protecting the creek’s source as well as sustaining it. Trees are a component of the water cycle, which is the continual transformation of different forms of water: liquid water evaporates into vapor, which condenses into clouds, which produces precipitation, which runs into water bodies.
Trees play an integral role in the water cycle. Some of the water absorbed through their roots is released through the leaves as vapor—a process called transpiration. Preserving and protecting Saddler’s Woods is significant to providing water to Newton Creek and its tributary.
Newton Creek is a tributary to the Delaware River, which flows to the Delaware Bay and out to the Atlantic Ocean. Waterways are an interconnected maze of flowing water that seeks the lowest ground. Sloping landscape sheds rainwater to fill the nearest water body, creating the term “watershed”. Contaminants and sediment can be present in the runoff as it flows across the watershed’s terrain into Saddler’s Run, Newton Creek and beyond.
The roots of Saddler’s Woods trees and other vegetation can filtrate for rainwater and floods. Root systems absorb some of the runoff, decreasing the amount of flow and contamination. Roots also reduce soil erosion from storm water runoff.
The forest floor is pervious so a portion of rainwater will percolate through the soil of Saddler’s Woods replenishing the Potomac-Raritan-Magothy Aquifer. Saddler’s Woods serves as a well head field for the aquifer, which feeds the Newton and other nearby water bodies as well as provides drinking water to 500,000 Camden County residents. As the water percolates down into soil, it acts like a filter removing pollutants. Rainwater that hits impervious surfaces such as pavement and roofs will flow into storm water sewer outlets unfiltered and end up in Newton Creek, delivering pollutants, sediment, litter and debris that threaten aquatic life and the purity of the aquifer.
Since contaminated water will reach the ocean, it’ll have a negative impact like the vast floating garbage patches, composed mostly of plastic waste, that plague both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, endangering marine wildlife and ecosystems.
One can think of water as the “blood” of the Earth and waterways as the “arteries”. The water (blood) must remain clean and the waterways (arteries) unimpeded to maintain the good health of the Earth, which is tied to our own health. Clean, abundant water is essential to the health of all life and the ecosystems they inhabit. Wildlife plays an important role in the preservation and health of forests by foraging on plants and animals to keep their populations in check, maintaining the balance of the many tiers of a forest ecosystem.
Wildlife cannot achieve their purpose without drinkable water. Humans can treat and filter their water, but wildlife only has what they can find outdoors. If it’s polluted or diminished, it won’t support them.
It’s up to people in the Newton Creek Watershed, or wherever else they live, to make sure water remains a viable resource for all life. Our impact can be powerful either to sustain or degrade the quality of water and maintain a usable quantity as it moves through its cycle from atmosphere to water bodies to trees to soil. Let’s do our best to protect and replenish our most precious element: water.
Ms. Hara L. Rola is an environmental advocate, writer and poet. The Shoresaver’s Handbook, A Citizen’s Guide, by Tucker Coombe and Saddler’s Woods Conservation Association’s Watershed Guidewere sources for this article. She spent a decade assisting Saddler’s Woods Conservation Association in forest management and restoration, community outreach, publicity and education. Her next article will describe how citizens can protect water quality and its abundance. Contact her at [email protected]. For more information, visit SaddlersWoods.org.