Where Does Your Water Go?

Roanoke River Drainage takes our water to Albemarle Sound–via USGS Streamer tool (see below)

There are some things about surface waters that are always true:

  1. They only flows downhill. Gravity decides the course.
  2. They cut through soft rock faster than harder rock.
  3. They carry with them what they flow through: soil, sand, pig poop, road salt
  4. They will eventually find the ocean (or impounded, find the clouds again).

But beyond that, the nation’s creeks and streams and rivers have their own unique story, told by the history of the continental masses underneath them that, along with climate, determine what forest or prairie or boulder field or swamp their course includes.

We tend to take our water for granted–even the small portion visible above ground. Many could not name the creeks and rivers into which our downspouts pour today’s rainshower, or where those confluent waters enter an ocean.

Ways of “seeing” water on which we depend may help some (I know it helps me) better appreciate the bigger picture of the water we use here in our house every day.

Ways of seeing water courses also serve the historian of travel and early migration east to west, where mountains–and rivers–determined so much of the character of the journey, and even where those travelers eventually settled. Water was a way to town; a way to power grindstones; a way to eat and trap and trade.

And with that rambling preamble, let me suggest (and hope someone resonates) that you click to open the map, then find the stream nearest you on the USGS Streamer.

You can choose to follow it UPstream or DOWNstream by clicking the appropriate setting, then your stream of choice. Make sure your kids get a chance to “play” with this one.

BTW, click on any other stream in Floyd County to show “downstream” and it will show the Little to the New to the Kanawha to the Ohio to the Mississippi to the Gulf. A whole ‘nuther watershed, just 2 miles west of us.

And another wonderful piece of Earth Through Different Eyes.

Share this with your friends!

Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Never gave it much thought over the years but 15 years before i retired i joined the hasmatt team at work thats when the study of where water came from and how to protect it from all mans cemacals started with me.
    From parking lots to gutters any where there is water running we must keep our trash that we event ever day out of it roads enterstates farms lead to the water ways so here behind my house is east wilderness creek it flows to cimberland creek to pinch creek to little walker to big walker to the new river to the ohio to missippi to the gulf of mexico so if i change my oil in the old ford and dump the oil in wilderness creek it will end up in the gulf to kill fish and wildlife .
    I here you Fred wish the powers that be did .

  2. I never thought about your continental divide before! How cool that you live practically right on it. I have made a big deal about crossing the one in the Rockies.

  3. I think the concept of “watershed”–as in “watershed moments” is a useful metaphor. A single drop (or idea or conviction or passion) that falls just one side or the other of the divide ends up sending it to a totally different destination. Hence, we need to shift the land-ethic continental divide so that more “drops” or ethical choices and actions fall on the “people and planet” side of the Economic Divide than on the Profit for Shareholders side. If we don’t all our water ends up circling down the toilet. We better move the line very very soon.

  4. I have a print of the US River Basin map hanging in my office. It’s really a beautiful thing and gets quite a few comments.

  5. Vicki…What wonderful functional and educational ART! We have generally become so very numb to our PLACE in the world and need to be guided back into context.