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Muddy Waters: A Historical View of Land Use Patterns, Water Quality, and the Conservation Movement
Background Information for Teachers

Erosion and Water Pollution
Point and Nonpoint Pollution
Soil erosion is the process of wind and water picking up loose soil and carrying it away. Some of this soil is washed into creeks, streams and ponds and soil particles become suspended in water. Plants and animals become affected by erosion. Light is blocked by the floating particles and has an effect on photosynthesis. Fish gills can become clogged and excess mud can smother eggs. Increased growth by algae that feeds on the nutrients found in the soil can use up oxygen in the water and can create toxic conditions. Human activities such as farming, housing developments, logging and tire tracks from recreational vehicles can all increase erosion by destroying plants that hold soil intact. By destroying vegetation, soil becomes vulnerable to erosion.
Human activities that result in water pollution can affect water environments in ways that destroy or damage natural communities. Water runoff can carry pesticides and herbicides from farms into streams and rivers. Factories and cities dump sewage into surface water. Polluted water that percolates down into the soil can reach groundwater that is used in wells.
Point sources are easy to define, because they are flows of water that come out of a pipe. The reason industrial operations are so often blamed for water pollution is because they release treated water from pipes into rivers. We assume the water is polluted because it is easy to see that it is coming from an industrial pipe. Nonpoint sources are a little trickier. They are the indirect things that cause pollutants to get into rivers and streams, like runoff and spills. Nonpoint source pollution can begin in many places, including our own backyards. Agricultural fields, construction sites, abandoned mines, city streets, and parking lots all accumulate materials that can be harmful to the health of rivers and people. These materials can be washed into rivers directly or through storm drains when it rains. Think about pavement. Pollutants that end up on paved surfaces can't be partially absorbed the way they might if they were dropped on grass or out in the woods.
Things that leak when we throw them out can also get into water through indirect ways. Even materials that come from the atmosphere, like chemicals from car, truck, or lawnmower exhaust, can end up in water and have an effect. Nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous are perfect examples of this.
Honey Hollow Watershed
Created in 1939, the Honey Hollow Watershed Conservation Area was the first small upland watershed in agricultural used to demonstrate that soil, water and wildlife conservation, and flood prevention could be achieved through cooperative local action. The Honey Hollow Watershed consists of five farms totaling about 650 acres and is located along the Delaware River, north of New Hope, Pennsylvania.
The Honey Hollow Watershed was established in the 1930s, when the owners of the farms along Honey Creek observed how their fields were washing away. During the Colonial times, farming was a way of life in the watershed. The introduction of mechanical farming tools increased production but created the new problem of soil erosion. By the 1920s local farmers" fields began to show tremendous erosion. Cultivation by machinery had caused serious sheet and gully erosion on the upland farms, while situation struck those on the down slope. It was obvious that the erosion must be stopped, or else the land would be ruined for agricultural use. The five owners of the farmland in the Honey Hollow watershed combined efforts and took their concerns to the regional office of the Soil Conservation Service in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania. The Regional Director, Dr. J. P. Jones, agreed to provide the technical assistance needed and the landowners agreed to band together and carry out the soil and water conservation practices prescribed for each tract. Within the next two years terraces, strip cropping, and diversion ditches had been constructed to control runoff on steep slopes, long dense hedges had been planted to check erosion and provide water life habitat, and several ponds were built and stocked with fish.
Almost overnight the "Honey Hollow Project" attracted attention from high levels in the Department of Agriculture, as well as farmers seeking ways to improve their land. Vice President Henry Wallace visited the Honey Hollow in 1944, and returned several times. Louis Broomfield, novelist and conservationist, was also a good friend of the project. The Watershed still retains all the conservation measures adopted in the late 1930s, terraces, contour-plowed fields, diversion ditches, wildlife hedges, ponds, and tree-lands. The project attracted national attention and became a model of cooperative farmers' action to conserve natural resources.
Special thanks to the Bucks County Audubon Society for providing this information.

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