About the Potomac

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The Potomac River flows through approximately 383 miles, starting in Fairfax Stone State Park and ending in the Chesapeake Bay. The Potomac Basin takes up area in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia. This also referred to as the “Potomac watershed,” which is the area where all rivers and streams drain into the Potomac. The Potomac River itself is a Chesapeake Bay watershed because that is where the river drains.

The Potomac River is at least 2 million years old and was formed by the river cutting into the rocks. As sea levels fluctuated, the depth of the river changed, affecting how deeply the water cut into the river bed.

The river was originally settled by Native Americans, followed by European settlers.┬áNative Americans affected the local ecosystem by burning the undergrowth as a way to prevent large fires. European settlers prevented these small fires, thus ensuring larger, more damaging fires. Over time, the region became dominated by agricultural and, later on, industrialized communities. Pollution from these communities effectively destroyed the river’s ecosystem by 1950.

However, changes to wastewater treatment, new regulations, and an increased awareness of local ecology and wildlife has led to a resurgence in local Potomac wildlife. For more information, see this timeline by the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin.

Helpful Definitions

Watershed:

A watershed is the area of land where all of the water that is under it or drains off of it goes into the same place

Indicator Species:

A species that is used to determine the health or toxicity of a particular ecosystem.