The Feds Map Where U.S. Water Goes … and It’s Fascinating

The National Atlas of the United States is a periodic publication of a federal partnership led by the U.S. Geological Survey. It contains a wealth of data and maps to “capture and depict the patterns, conditions, and trends of American life.” Earlier this summer, this partnership released a tool that may change the way you think about the movement of water in America.

Streamer is an interactive mapping tool that lets you follow any major river or stream in America upstream to its headwaters or downstream to the ocean. With it you can see, starting from any point in America, where the water in your stream is coming from and going to. It’s like a Google map for rivers.

Take, for example, the Mississippi River. By clicking on the mouth of the Mississippi River where it reaches the Gulf of Mexico, you can get a map, like the one below, that shows every stream and river that drains into the Mississippi River. If you’re one of the 85 million people living in this area that touches 31 states, you live in one of the top five largest draining basins in the world, covering about one-third of the U.S. land mass.

StreamerWith maps like this, you can start to appreciate the interconnectedness of water. You can see that what happens to water in western Pennsylvania or eastern Colorado matters to what the water will be like in Louisiana. Keep this map in mind during upcoming debates about the Clean Water Act. Water doesn’t care about state boundaries. It simply flows inexorably, inevitably downhill. Therefore, sportsmen and women need effective federal protections to safeguard the fish, wildlife and habitat that sustain our proud sporting traditions.

This map also shows that what gets put into the water upstream in South Dakota eventually makes its way to the Gulf of Mexico.

That’s why the TRCP launched the Barnyard to Boatyard Conservation Exchange. In it, we brought South Dakota farmers and ranchers together with Louisiana Gulf fishermen to see firsthand the challenges each faces making a living on the Mississippi River that connects them – and to seek solutions to conserve America’s great native prairies and coastal waters.

Currently, pollution in the Mississippi River – large amounts of it coming from farming and ranching activities in the upper reaches of the river – enters the Gulf, killing aquatic life in an area the size of Connecticut. There have been positive developments. Minnesota just proposed a plan to reduce its pollution contribution by 20-35 percent. But there’s still a long way to go to protect this resource and preserve the recreational fishing and agricultural economies at either end of the river.

In the meantime, go play around with Streamer and see where your favorite stream leads.

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Jimmy Hague
Jimmy Hague, Director of the Center for Water Resources, joined the TRCP in May 2013 as the initiative manager for water resources conservation. In this capacity, he directs the TRCP’s efforts to better manage the nation’s water supplies for the benefit of sportsmen. Prior to working for the TRCP, Jimmy worked for U.S. Senator Mark Udall of Colorado as his advisor for various conservation and natural resources issues, including water resources management and environmental regulation. He also worked for the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science. A native of West Virginia, Jimmy holds a master's degree in environment policy from the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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  1. The Colorado River Just Entered a New Paradigm, and It Could Mean Less Water for Sportsmen
  2. Senate Asks: What Should We Do on Water? Here’s One Answer
  3. Farmers and Fishermen to Switch Places for Conservation Exchange
  4. Meet Dawn and Patrick Scheier
  5. Meet Joey Hanson

One comment on “The Feds Map Where U.S. Water Goes … and It’s Fascinating

  1. Tim Richardson on said:

    Thanks for the water focus by TRCP! I’m hoping that improving the water quality reaching the Gulf of Mexico from U.S. watersheds becomes a priority for BP Deepwater Horizon restoration.

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