West Virginia Chesapeake Bay Headwaters
West Virginia Chesapeake Bay
The Potomac River forms the Maryland/West Virginia boundary. Up river of Green Spring, the Potomac splits into two major tributaries, the North and South Branches. The North Branch continues as the boundary and its watershed is divided by the two states. The South Branch is located entirely within WV.
The 3,505 square mile Potomac Headwaters watershed in West Virginia drains parts of two distinct physiographic provinces: the Appalachian Plateau and the Ridge and Valley.
The Appalachian Plateau forms the watershed’s extreme western edge. This region is the home of three sizeable watersheds: the South Branch of the Potomac, the North Branch of the Potomac and the Cacapo. This province features narrow valleys, steep ridges, swift streams, low soil permeability, much coal (although none in the South Branch watershed), and horizontally bedded sedimentary rocks such as sandstone, shale, and limestone. The area is approximately 68% forested, with mixed (coniferous and deciduous) canopy trees. Twenty-four percent (24%) of the land is used for agriculture, and the valleys, gentler slopes and rounded ridge tops support many agricultural pursuits, primarily pasture and hay production, but also some orchard and row-crop production. It is one of West Virginia’s most agricultural areas for cattle and poultry production—particularly in the South Branch and the headwaters of the Cacapon. Roughly 2% of the watershed is urban in nature, with the remaining 6% in mixed open.
The Ridge and Valley Province, located east of the Appalachian Plateau, contains the majority of West Virginia’s Potomac watershed. This region contains the lower reaches of the Cacapon River, the Direct Drains (including Opequon, Sleepy and Back creeks), and the Shenandoah River. The area is approximately 48% forested, 28% is agriculture, 7% is urban and 17% is mixed open. Parallel valleys are separated by long, steep ridges, which reinforce a classic trellised drainage pattern. The valleys, gentler slopes and rounded ridge tops of this province support agricultural pursuits. The rocks are arranged in cyclical sequences of sandstones, shales, dolomites and limestones. The eastern part of the Ridge and Valley Province, in Berkeley and Jefferson counties, is underlain primarily by limestones, dolomites and shales. Sinkholes, underground streams, and other karst features have developed on the underlying limestone/dolomite, and as a result, the number of surface streams is low. The karst geology in much of this watershed lends itself to rapid distribution of pollutants from both urban and agricultural sources into groundwater and subsequently into surface streams fed by springs and seeps.
Berkeley, Jefferson, and Morgan counties are the fastest growing region in the state and is rapidly being transformed into a bedroom community of the Washington-Baltimore Metropolitan Area. The workforce is mostly in the non-farm private sector. Manufacturing in this area includes commercial industries such as printers, plastics and rubber products, and machinery manufacturing. Only 3% of the population work on farms—mostly dairy, apple and peach orchards. Many of these farms are now being developed.
The majority of Hampshire, Hardy, Grant, Mineral, and Pendleton county residents work in manufacturing; including the poultry and food processing, wood products,
and leather goods industries. In the early 1990’s, the local poultry industry increased dramatically when the processing plant in Hardy County expanded. About 9% of workforce is in agriculture—mostly large-scale poultry production and a beef cattle market. Forests dominate land use in the area, with approximately 70% covered in forest; this region includes the George Washington and Monongahela National Forests.
The Ridge and Valley Province extends to the headwaters of the James River in Monroe County. West Virginia has two sources feeding the James River: Potts Creek and Sweet Springs.
Potts Creek consists of approximately 40 square miles and has two tributaries: North Fork of Potts Creek and South Fork of Potts Creek. Part of the Potts Creek watershed is in theJefferson National Forest. The stream is habitat for the endangered James River Spiny Mussel (Pleurobema collina).
Sweet Springs Creek, Cove Creek and Back Creek make up three headwaters of the James within the Sweet Springs Valley. The Sweet Springs watershed consists of approximately 25 square miles.
The main agriculture use is grass pasture/hay land and beef cattle production.