NORTH DAKOTA (KXNET) — Healthy watersheds provide many ecosystem benefits. They help cycle important nutrients in our water, control erosion, and increase biodiversity in our state.

But we need to care for them in winter too, even when they’re covered in ice.

Winter stream temperatures, though infrequently studied, exert important influences on aquatic communities, especially when it comes to our big rivers and lakes.

We know our watersheds need to be clean and protected, especially when they’re used in the summer. But how about the winter months?

“Overall, water quality and watershed health in, not only Western North Dakota, but all of North Dakota are in overall good condition. As winter is shaping up here, we’re getting a fair bit of moisture across the state, which is also very important for aquatic ecosystem health in Western North Dakota in particular,” said North Department Department of Environmental Quality, Aaron Larsen.

And so our watersheds are just as important in the winter as in the summertime?

“Uh, yes. Yes, they are. And, it’s great that we’re having this conversation as we look outside and see the snow depth right now. It’s important to keep good practices in mind. Over the course of the winter going into the spring thaw, when the runoff and precipitation events occur and increased water volume is added to our lakes, reservoirs, rivers,” Larsen added.

And, what are some issues that our watersheds are facing today?

“Oh, sure. So some of the issues that are facing today include nonpoint source pollution, as well as climate change, is also an important variable to keep in mind, looking into the future,” Larsen said.

What are some things that we can do to help protect our watershed?

“So again just keeping those best practices in mind. Things that you would do in the summer months also apply in the winter months. So keeping things in mind like where you pile up large, snow volume, those types of things, keep those in mind. As well as limiting, you know, for instance, salt usage, if you’re applying salt to your driveway, in those types of areas. Use the appropriate amount, don’t overdo it, cause eventually, that runoff will enter in one of our water bodies. And it may be a water body that you’re fond of and visit frequently,” Larsen explained.

How would that impact the body of water then with all of that salt being added?

“It’s just not only salt but cumulative effect of, you know, you think of the city of Bismark and then you think of it from a national perspective or a state perspective. Just keeping those cumulative effects in mind,” said Larsen.

Not only do watersheds help bodies of water, like Lake Sakakawea or the Missouri River, but they also help our local economy.

Property values go up around healthy watersheds, and infrastructure costs are kept low in healthy environments.