Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Episode 539 (8-24-20): A Few Noteworthy Numbers about Virginia’s Waters

Click to listen to episode (5:19)

Sections below are the following:

Transcript of Audio
Audio Notes and Acknowledgments
Related Water Radio Episodes
For Virginia Teachers (Relevant SOLs, etc.)

Unless otherwise noted, all Web addresses mentioned were functional as of 8-21-20.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of August 24, 2020.  This week’s episode is intended especially for Virginia science students and their teachers in grades 4 and 6, and for anyone interested in water-related numbers.

MUSIC - ~ 20 sec – instrumental

That’s part of “The Water is Wide,” a traditional Scottish tune, performed by Timothy Seaman of Williamsburg, Va.  It sets the stage for exploring some numbers and facts about the wide variety of Virginia’s water resources.  We start with some mystery sounds about water bodies, that is, places that contain surface water.  Have a listen for about 25 seconds, and see if you know these four kinds of water bodies.

SOUNDS – ~ 23 sec

If you guessed river, stream, lake, and estuary, you’re right!

Those were sounds from the James River in Lynchburg; a small stream in Montgomery County; a boat on Claytor Lake in Pulaski County; and waves in the Chesapeake Bay, which is the United States’ largest estuary.  An estuary is a partially enclosed coastal water body where fresh water and salt water mix.

According to a 2019 state government report, Virginia has almost 43,000 square miles of surface area, and about 3300 of those square miles are covered by surface waters.  That includes over 100,000 miles of rivers and streams; 160,000 acres in 248 publicly-owned lakes, not counting hundreds of privately-owned lakes or ponds; over 2300 square miles of estuaries; over 1 million acres of wetlands; and 120 miles of Atlantic Ocean coastline.

All surface water bodies have an associated watershed, that is, the land area that drains to the water body at any given point.  Small-stream watersheds might cover considerably less than one square mile, while large-river watersheds can cover thousands of square miles, such as the over 10,000 square miles in the James River watershed, almost one-fourth of Virginia’s landscape.

Besides surface water, the other main component of water resources is groundwater.  Underground formations of rock or other materials that yield water in wells are called aquifers.  Aquifers occur all over Virginia, varying in rock type, size, depth, and amount of water they hold and yield.  One particularly large example is the Potomac Aquifer, the major source of groundwater in Eastern Virginia; it’s found from Georgia to New Jersey.

We know a lot about water in Virginia, but many unknowns—about climate change, groundwater, streams, and more—will probably still be wide-open questions when today’s elementary students have become tomorrow’s scientists.

Thanks to Timothy Seaman for permission to use his version of “The Water is Wide.”  We close with some more music, with a title appropriate for wandering around to explore Virginia’s great diversity of waters.  Here’s about 20 seconds of “Wandering Boots,” by the Charlottesville- and Nelson County, Va.-based band, Chamomile and Whiskey.

MUSIC - ~19 sec – instrumental


Virginia Water Radio is produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, part of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.  For more Virginia water sounds, music, or information, visit us online at virginiawaterradio.org, or call the Water Center at (540) 231-5624.  Thanks to Ben Cosgrove for his version of “Shenandoah” to open and close the show.  In Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


The version of “The Water is Wide” heard here, from the 2006 album, “Jamestown—On the Edge of a Vast Continent,” is copyright by Timothy Seaman and Pine Wind Music, used with permission.  More information about Timothy Seaman is available online at https://timothyseaman.com/en/.  More information on this traditional tune is available from Jürgen Kloss, “Just Another Tune/‘The Water Is Wide’—The History Of A ‘Folksong’” (July 2012), online at http://www.justanothertune.com/html/wateriswide.html.

“Wandering Boots,” from the 2013 album “Wandering Boots,” is copyright by Chamomile and Whiskey, used with permission.  More information about Chamomile and Whiskey is available online at https://www.chamomileandwhiskey.com/.  This music was used previously by Virginia Water Radio in Episode 265, 5-11-15.

The sounds heard in this episode were recorded by Virginia Water Radio as follows:
James River at Percival’s Island in Lynchburg, Va., June 15, 2013; small stream flowing through a wetland in Heritage Park in Blacksburg, Va., July 27, 2016;
boat on Claytor Lake in Pulaski County, Va., August 31, 2013;
Chesapeake Bay at Kent Island, Maryland, June 22, 2010.

Click here if you’d like to hear the full version (2 min./22 sec.) of the “Shenandoah” arrangement/performance by Ben Cosgrove that opens and closes this episode. More information about Mr. Cosgrove is available online at http://www.bencosgrove.com.


James River at Lynchburg, Va., June15, 2013.

Small stream in Heritage Park in Blacksburg, Va. (Montgomery County), June 2, 2015.

Claytor Lake as seen in Claytor Lake State Park, Pulaski County, Va., September 23, 2012.

Chesapeake Bay as seen from the boat ramp in Kiptopeke State Park, Northampton County, Va., October 7, 2007.

Map of Virginia's major river watersheds, from the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, “Virginia’s Major Watersheds,” online at https://www.dcr.virginia.gov/soil-and-water/wsheds 


Used for Audio

Chesapeake Bay Program, “The Estuary,” online at https://www.chesapeakebay.net/discover/ecosystem/the_estuary_system.

Hampton Roads Sanitation District, “What is the Potomac Aquifer?” online at https://www.hrsd.com/swift/potomac-aquifer-diminishing-resource.

Carrie Jensen et al., “Headwater stream length dynamics across four physiographic provinces of the Appalachian Highlands,” Hydrological Processes, Vol., 31, No., 19, 15 September 2017; accessed online at https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/hyp.11259 (subscription may be required).  This research article has some numbers on the watershed area of small streams.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Basic Information about Estuaries,” online at https://www.epa.gov/nep/basic-information-about-estuaries.

U.S. Geological Survey, “Aquifer Basics,” online at https://water.usgs.gov/ogw/aquiferbasics/index.html.

U.S. Geological Survey, “Water Science School,” online at https://www.usgs.gov/special-topic/water-science-school:
“Aquifers and Groundwater,” online at https://www.usgs.gov/special-topic/water-science-school/science/aquifers-and-groundwater?qt-science_center_objects=0#qt-science_center_objects;
“Groundwater,” online at https://www.usgs.gov/special-topic/water-science-school/science/groundwater;
“Surface Water,” online at https://www.usgs.gov/special-topic/water-science-school/science/surface-water;
“Watersheds and Drainage Basins,” online at https://www.usgs.gov/special-topic/water-science-school/science/watersheds-and-drainage-basins?qt-science_center_objects=0#qt-science_center_objects.

Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, “Status of Virginia’s Water Resources – A Report on Virginia’s Water Resources Management Activities,” October 2019, online at https://rga.lis.virginia.gov/Published/2019/RD416/.  This report is the source (Appendix 1 page 30) for the numbers cited in this episode.  The 100,000 miles number used in the audio is the estimate used in the report for non-tidal rivers and streams.

For More Information about Water Resources in Virginia or Elsewhere

Alan Raflo, “Divide and Confluence,” Virginia Water Central, February 2000, pages 8-11, online at https://vtechworks.lib.vt.edu/handle/10919/49316. This is a basic introduction to watersheds and to Virginia’s main river basins.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “How’s My Waterway?” online at https://www.epa.gov/waterdata/hows-my-waterway.  Formerly called “Surf Your Watershed,” this site allows users to locate watersheds and watershed information across the United States.

U.S. Geological Survey, “Virginia and West Virginia Water Science Center,” online at https://www.usgs.gov/centers/va-wv-water.

Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, “Hydrologic Unit Geography,” online at http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/soil_and_water/hu.shtml.  This site provides detailed information on how watersheds are designated, plus access to interactive maps of Virginia’s watersheds.

Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, “Virginia’s Major Watersheds,” online at http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/soil_and_water/wsheds.shtml.

Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, “Watershed Roundtables,” online at http://www.deq.virginia.gov/Programs/Water/WaterQualityInformationTMDLs/WatershedRoundtables.aspx.  This site provides access to online information about watershed groups in Virginia’s major river basins.

Virginia Department of Health, “Private Well Water Information,” online at https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/environmental-health/onsite-sewage-water-services-updated/organizations/private-well-water-information/.

Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR), “Rivers and Streams,” online at https://dwr.virginia.gov/rivers/.


All Water Radio episodes are listed by category at the Index link above (http://www.virginiawaterradio.org/p/index.html).  See particularly the “Groundwater” and “Rivers, Streams, and Other Surface Water” subject categories; the latter category has entries for specific rivers and other water bodies, including the Chesapeake Bay.

Following are links to some episodes on various topics related to this week’s episode.

On Geography Generally

Episode 265, 5-11-15 – on the subject of geography (used “Wandering Boots”).

On Groundwater

Episode 75, 8-15-11 and Episode 379, 7-31-17 – on springs.
Episode 258, 3-23-15 – on winter precipitation and recharge of groundwater.
Episode 306, 3-7-16 – an introduction to groundwater.
Episode 534, 7-20-20 – on Eastern Virginia groundwater.

On Watersheds

Episode 140, 12-10-12 – on early exploration of the Chesapeake Bay and tributary rivers.
Episode 156, 4-8-13 – on watershed basics.
Episode 209, 4-14-14 – on the Blue Ridge and three major watersheds.
Episode 251, 2-2-15 – featuring a musical tour of several river basins.
Episode 288, 11-2-15 – on mountain gaps, including their role as watershed divides.
Episode 334, 9-19-16 – featuring a quiz on rivers and watersheds, covering major Virginia river basins.
Episode 397, 12-4-17 – on headwater streams and related research.

On Estuaries

Episode 326, 7-25-16 – an introduction to estuaries.

On Wetlands

Episode 429, 7-16-18 – an introduction to marshes and other kinds of wetlands.


This episode is intended to support specifically the following Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs).

2010 Science SOLs

Grades K-6 Earth Resources Theme
4.9 – Virginia natural resources, including watersheds, water resources, and organisms.

Grades K-6 Living Systems Theme
6.7 – natural processes and human interactions that affect watershed systems; Virginia watersheds, water bodies, and wetlands; health and safety issues; and water monitoring.

Earth Science Course
ES.8 – influences by geologic processes and the activities of humans on freshwater resources, including identification of groundwater and major watershed systems in Virginia, with reference to the hydrologic cycle.

Following are some other SOLs that may be supported by this episode’s audio/transcript, sources, or other information included in this post.

2013 Music SOLs

SOLs at various grade levels that call for “examining the relationship of music to the other fine arts and other fields of knowledge.”

2010 Science SOLs

Grades K-6 Earth Patterns, Cycles, and Change Theme
3.9 – Water cycle, including sources of water, energy driving water cycle, water essential for living things, and water limitations and conservation.

Grades K-6 Earth Resources Theme
6.9 – public policy decisions related to the environment (including resource management and conservation, land use decisions, hazard mitigation, and cost/benefit assessments).

2015 Social Studies SOLs

Grades K-3 Geography Theme
1.6 – Virginia climate, seasons, and landforms.

Grades K-3 Economics Theme
2.8 – natural, human, and capital resources.

Virginia Studies Course
VS.10 – knowledge of government, geography, and economics in present-day Virginia.

World Geography Course
WG.2 – how selected physical and ecological processes shape the Earth’s surface, including climate, weather, and how humans influence their environment and are influenced by it.

Virginia’s SOLs are available from the Virginia Department of Education, online at http://www.doe.virginia.gov/testing/.

Following are links to Water Radio episodes (various topics) designed especially for certain K-12 grade levels.

Episode 250, 1-26-15 – on boiling, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Episode 255, 3-2-15 – on density, for 5th and 6th grade.
Episode 282, 9-21-15 – on living vs. non-living, for kindergarten.
Episode 309, 3-28-16 – on temperature regulation in animals, for kindergarten through 12th grade.
Episode 333, 9-12-16 – on dissolved gases, especially dissolved oxygen in aquatic habitats, for 5th grade.
Episode 403, 1-15-18 – on freezing and ice, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Episode 404, 1-22-18 – on ice on ponds and lakes, for 4th through 8th grade.
Episode 406, 2-5-18 – on ice on rivers, for middle school.
Episode 407, 2-12-18 – on snow chemistry and physics, for high school.
Episode 483, 7-29-19 – on buoyancy and drag, for middle school and high school.
Episode 524, 5-11-20 – on sounds by water-related animals, for elementary school through high school.
Episode 531, 6-29-20 – on various ways that animals get water, for 3rd and 4th grade.