Watershed Wealth

As geologist John Wesley Powell put it, a watershed is, "That area of land, a bounded hydrologic system, within which all living things are inextricably linked by their common water course and where, as humans settled, simple logic demanded that they become part of a community."

The St. Lawrence River serves as a gateway between the North Atlantic and the Great Lakes. The watershed covers 5,600 square miles of land in New York alone and includes the:

· Oswegatchie River

· Raquette River

· Saint Regis River

· Grasse River

· Indian River

· Black Lake

· Cranberry Lake

· Raquette Lake

· Tupper Lake

· Long Lake

and 185 miles of Great Lakes shoreline

Watershed connectivity is vital to all life on Earth, regardless of whether your home is lakeside or in a desert. Hydrology consists of the ways waters travel across lawns, through cloud formations, out of the tap, into maple leaves, under the soil and into the wetlands. Every act we take can be a choice as to whether we poison or respect those waters, and how we want to be able to live in the future. Canoeing, fishing and swimming are all wonderful fun; remember that those activities are dependent on the health of the watershed.

The St. Lawrence Land Trust has a program set up called Friends of the Watershed - specifically, the St. Lawrence Watershed, stretching out to the Grasse, Little and Raqutte Rivers. Taking a multi-pronged approach, the Friends progam helps steer citizens towards actions that help rejuvenate and protect area waterways.

Water Quality in the Saint Lawrence River Watershed

Each waterbody in NYS has been assigned a classification, which reflects the designated "best uses" of the waterbody. These best uses typically include the ability to support fish and aquatic wildlife, recreational uses (fishing, boating) and, for some waters, public bathing, drinking water use or shellfishing. Water quality is considered to be good if the waters support their best uses. The NYS DEC routinely monitors and assesses water quality throughout the state and publishes detailed reports of these findings. For more information on these monitoring and assessment programs, see Water Quality Monitoring, Assessment and Planning.

According to the NYS DEC, about 40% of river/stream miles, 68% of lake, pond and reservoir acres, and 100% of Great Lakes shoreline in the St. Lawrence River Watershed have been assessed. Such assesments designate water quality as "good," "satisfactory," and "impaired."

Good: Fully supports designated activities and uses
Satisfactory: Fully supports designated activities and uses,
but with minor impacts
Impaired: Does not support designated uses and activities
Unassessed: Insufficient data available

Watershed Deterioration

Water quality in the St. Lawrence Watershed is dominated by atmospheric deposition of pollutants that originate largely outside the basin. Acid rain and mercury deposition are the most widespread issues in the watershed. Impacts from agricultural activities are also frequently cited in this vary rural and agriculturally intensive area. Hazardous wastes and other industrial impacts associated with resource extraction are also a concern in specific areas.

Major water quality concerns in the watershed are:

  • Acid Rain which limits the fish community and aquatic life
  • Atmospheric Deposition of Mercury which restricts fish consumption
  • Agricultural Activities and Associated Runoff which contributes nutrients and sediments to waters
  • Hazardous Wastes and Legacy Industrial Impacts in the Massena Area of Concern


Waterways across Earth have problems with pollution and degradation, and the St. Lawrence County watershed is no exception. This region faces:


PCB pollution


Pharmaceutical pollution

Dam obstruction

Embankment zone destruction

Plastic pollution

Fertilizer-based algal blooms

Agricultural run-off

Pesticide run-off

Oxygen  loss


Invasive species



Steps To Protect The Watershed

Waterways are polluted as a result of human activity, but things do not have to be the way they are. 


Support Mohawk advocacy for riverbottom cleanup

Do not flush unused prescriptions

Support restoration of open waterways

Respect embankment and wetland growth

Reduce, reuse and recycle. Put an end to the use of microbead products

Use compost, rather than commercial fertilizers

Avoid commercial fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.

Support organic, small-scale agriculture.

Plant native species vegetation along embankments

Diligently check watercraft for hitchhikers. 

Remove known invasive land vegetation. Demand upgraded municipal water systems and water treatment facilities. Switch your toilet system to humanure composting.

Respect natural rhythms and their needs – reduce light, air, water, sound and land pollution. Encourage biodiversity.







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