It’s no secret that rivers are important to our communities in more ways than we can imagine. We depend on rivers for not only providing the water we need for our personal consumption, but as well as a source of food and livelihoods, as rivers provide habitat for fish to thrive in as well as enrich the soils our forests and farms grow on. Out of the rivers in the province of Aklan, the eponymous Aklan River is the biggest and longest , stretching 60 km from the neighboring province of Capiz to the mouth in Kalibo, Aklan’s capital town.
Rivers play important roles for our society to function, thus, it is important to recognize, protect, and preserve their features so that we can continue to maximize in reaping the economic benefits while being sustainable for the sake of the future generations. Here we will be shedding light on the importance of the Aklan River Watershed, a key feature in preserving the health of the river and the people living around it.
What is a watershed?
Every single body of water on earth has a watershed, a land area drained by the body of water that temporarily catches, stores, and transports water, typically rainwater, from the land surface into a water body.
As you can imagine, watersheds can greatly affect the quality of the river water by simply acting as the basin that comes into contact with incoming water — a natural filter you might say! A healthy watershed prevents pollutants, whether they be organic or inorganic, natural or manmade, from contaminating the water, as well as help absorb rain water that prevents flooding and landslides.
Soil Erosion and Sedimentation
Healthy watersheds are filled with trees and other vegetation that have roots anchoring the soil against erosion, thereby lessening sedimentation, which can have detrimental effects on fish and freshwater species populations as well as the quality of water that is used for daily activities.
The water polluted with sediments becomes cloudy, preventing animals from seeing food, as well as prevents freshwater vegetation from thriving in water by blocking sunlight. Sediments in stream beds disrupt the natural food chain by slowly destroying the habitats where the smallest organisms in a river system live and causing massive declines in fish populations.
While it’s important to note that erosion and sedimentation are events caused by natural factors such as wind and rain, human activities including forestry, road and building construction, and community events in areas near rivers may waste topsoil, accelerating the process of erosion. It also important to note that unregulated pollution of our chemical products can worsen the effects of sediment to disrupt ecological balance.
Sediments can adsorb chemicals that can exacerbate water quality problems of the entire river, leading to the destruction of aquatic habitats including the fish spawning grounds. This can include chemicals from pesticides, industrial waste, as well as chemicals from products disposed improperly like lead, copper, cadmium, and mercury, which can contaminate not only freshwater populations but also us who rely on river water for multiple uses.
Agricultural Organic Waste
Organic wastes can also be a problem if left unchecked. The nutrients provided by our fertilizers are important for our agricultural crops, but it may have adverse impacts on the water quality, if not managed properly.
In small amounts, nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen, carried from agricultural soil into the water, can help fish populations thrive by helping aquatic plants grow, adding to the natural food chain. However, too much of these nutrients can threaten fish and may cause disturbance to the balance of the ecosystem. In worse scenarios, huge amounts of these nutrients may cause a major algal bloom that has a potential to eliminate the fish population in the river.
While agricultural waste is the main source of such nutrients, other organic waste, including food waste, animal waste, and human waste all can contribute to nutrient pollution.
Luckily, a healthy watershed helps prevent too much organic waste from reaching the river. Pollutants bonded to the soil are also removed from the water — 80% of phosphorus and nitrogen (found in fertilizers) are removed by the natural forest filter of a watershed before reaching a stream.
Why should watersheds be important?
It’s simple: a healthy watershed protects the quality of our water bodies, which in turn sustains the quality of our lives and livelihoods, and more importantly, the balance of our nature.
Watersheds play a crucial role in whether or not the river provides a habitat in which fish and wildlife can thrive in without contaminants, in whether or not livelihoods are able to thrive, as well as whether or not the water we drink and use on a daily basis is clean.
As more of our natural lands are developed into industrial buildings and roads, we are seeing less and less natural land available to grow trees and plants and soil to absorb rainfall and only more and more pollutants from different sources of human activities to contaminate the rivers with.
With this, watershed reservations were developed to raise the importance of these areas. Watershed reservations are forest land reservations established to protect or improve the conditions of the water yield thereof or reduce pollution.
The Aklan River Watershed Forest Reserve was formally established when President Corazon Aquino signed it into law in Proclamation №600, s. 1990, in pursuant to the Forestry Reform Code of The Philippines enacted in 1975, thus making inappropriate forest exploitation, disruptive use and settlement illegal.
We All Play A Role In Preserving Our Watershed’s Integrity
While laws were enacted to preserve the health of our river and its ecological balance, we still need to raise awareness to contribute to a healthy watershed that benefits all of us in the end.
The conservation of water is one of the key ways we can help, as well as the simplest. Being mindful of our water waste, like turning off water when unnecessary, can help reduce our water usage by gallons, in turn we prevent wasting clean and safe water. By properly disposing of our waste, especially both organic and chemical waste (including food waste, technological waste, and chemical waste) can help us prevent contaminating our rivers.
Let’s all try to do our part.