Landscape Lenses

Physical Landscape : Hydrology

Hydrology includes all of the water features of a landscape including lakes, ponds, rivers and streams, as well as underground water and precipitation. Water distribution both above and below the earth’s surface is critical to the survival of plants and animals. Hydrology is such an important factor in determining the distribution of plants and animals that ecosystems and natural communities and landforms are often shaped by their hydrological regime.

Because humans, plants and wildlife depend so much on the availability of fresh water, many landscape analysts break up the landscape into functional hydrological units called watersheds. A single major hydrological feature such as Lake Champlain or the Connecticut River can define a regional watershed, while smaller features such as ponds and streams can define sub-watersheds. Topographical features like mountain chains affect surface hydrology and so also play a role in defining watersheds.

Here in Burlington, we have floodplain forests, bogs and deltas of the Winooski, and in recent years we have seen just how powerfully the Winooski can flow and how high its banks can rise. While the soils of the floodplains are rich in nutrients and seemingly ideal for farming, many farmers in The Intervale know the inherent risks involved, and many have lost entire crops in the large floods of the past several years.