#H2OBigPicture Photo Contest Showed How Simple Actions Add Up

Our H2O Big Picture contest was held in 2016, and we received photos showing simple actions to protect water quality and community watershed from over 20 states and Puerto Rico. After reviewing the many fantastic photos, the judges selected these winning images:

1st Place:

Anacostia Watershed Society Cleanup

Photo by Mara M.

"Working with the Anacostia Watershed Society, I have been engaging students from throughout Washington D.C. and Maryland in meaningful wetland restoration work at Heritage Marsh and Kingman Island.  We plant wild rice and arrow arum plants in classrooms and then transplant thousands of seedlings each season into the wetlands to restore the Anacostia River to a swimmable and fishable, beautiful resource for all to enjoy! I grew up along the Anacostia River and it has been an incredible opportunity to come back and do my part to create wetland habitats and include the community in environmental conservation and restoration! #H2OBigPicture"

2nd Place:

Litter cleanup around mangroves

Photo by Kaelen K.

"Where our trash ends up isn't just black and white. This picture was taken in a mangrove forest vital to filtering Biscayne Bay's water around its perimeter. This particular location holds a unique sentimental value to me because my father and I have been kayaking in the mangrove channels near here since I was old enough to walk. This picture is titled "Plastic of the Red Death," playing off the name of Edgar Allen Poe's short story."

3rd Place:

Cleanup at Triplett Creek

Photo by Marcy M.

"Triplett Creek Seeks: Triplett Creek and all watersheds seek younger generations to help our future.

Triplett Creek runs through Morehead, Rowan County, Kentucky which comprises 65% of Rowan County.  It is a watershed that is fed by several tributaries, including Christy Creek, Dry Creek and North Fork of Triplett Creek.  It is a sub-watershed of the Licking River watershed, which is a sub-watershed of the Ohio River watershed, which is a sub-watershed of the Mississippi River. 

For Earth Day this year my son and I volunteered with a group from Morehead State University to help clean the trash that had been either thrown or washed into the creek.  We found tires, a grill lid, plastics, rusted tin, gardening items, and many plastic pieces of bags to name a few items.  I believe teaching is by doing with my son and he realizes the importance of keeping our waterways free from litter and how it not only affects the habitats but it flows on down to other waterways affecting them as well."

There were seven other photos that came very close to the win—check out the top 10 photos here.

Thank you and congratulations to everyone who participated. All of the photos were unique and thought-provoking, and will be used to build a photo library that will help educate the public on the ways in which our communities can impact water quality across the watersheds we call home. Thank you for your creative contributions to this important effort!

You can view all of the contest entries here.


The photos and captions in these albums were submitted to NEEF as part of the #H2OBigPicture photo contest, and do not represent the views of NEEF or the US EPA.


The National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) and the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Water hosted a contest inviting the public to submit photos that demonstrate how people protect water quality where they live.

Whether it’s installing a rain barrel to divert stormwater and reduce your water use, keeping yard waste away from a storm drain, or taking part in a community stream cleanup, simple actions can have a big impact on water quality, as well as the plants, animals, and people that rely on these water resources—it's all part of the #H2OBigPicture.



Click here for the complete #H2OBigPicture Photo Contest Rules.


  • 1st place: Canon EOS Rebel T5 DSLR camera with 18-55mm and 75-300mm lenses, shoulder bag, and accessories
  • 2nd place: Canon PowerShot SX610 HS 20.2-megapixel digital camera
  • 3rd place: An REI gift card for $100

Not sure what kinds of actions impact water quality? Read below for an explanation of how our everyday actions can affect the #H2OBigPicture, including streams, lakes, and other aquatic ecosystems both in our own backyards and hundreds of miles away.

Our Place in the Watershed

No matter where you live, your home is situated in a watershed: a land area that drains to a central location, such as a lake, river, or ocean. You can think of it as a shallow depression or bowl in the landscape: even if your home is situated on the rim of the bowl, water washing off of your neighborhood is draining to the same place as areas on the opposite side of the bowl—everything is connected.

The water that you see dripping down your window, pooling in the street, or flowing through a creek leads elsewhere, whether that’s a wastewater treatment facility, a wetland, a larger tributary, or the ocean. Because of this interconnectivity, what may seem like a small action in one area of the watershed can have a big impact on natural systems elsewhere in the watershed, including the plants, animals, and people that depend on them.

A Shared Resource: The importance of water quality

There’s stiff competition for water in a watershed: humans, animals, and plants are all vying for this resource.

  • If you’re reading this, the odds are good you’re not too far from an open body of water. 164 million Americans, or more than half of the population, lives in the Great Lakes or open-ocean coastal watershed counties and parishes of the United States. In addition to housing more than 50% of our population, these coastal watershed areas help generate 58% of the national gross domestic product, and account for about 66 million jobs.
  • Moving inland, rivers and streams are another boost to the economy: people participating in outdoor recreation spend about $86 billion each year on water sports such as kayaking, canoeing, rafting, and motorized boating. Commercial and recreational fishing activities are also important economic drivers, generating $163 billion in sales in the United States, as well as nearly 1.9 million jobs. Before they can be caught, fish and other aquatic wildlife depend on water in streams, lakes, oceans, and estuaries to live, breed, and feed. In the United States, estuaries alone provide habitat for more than three quarters of all commercial and recreational fish catch.
  • Aquatic systems are important keepers of biodiversity: estuarine salt marshes and fire-maintained wet pine savannah such as those found at the Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve are some of the most biodiverse habitats in North America, supporting important species of fish and wildlife, such as carnivorous plants and orchids.
  • Beyond anything we can see or touch, aquatic systems provide ecosystem services, or natural benefits. For example, coastal wetlands reduce the strength of incoming storm surge before it can devastate a coastal community, and streamside vegetation absorbs flood waters as they crest the edges of a river.

We depend on water bodies to provide for us in these many fashions, but if an aquatic system is polluted with trash, turbid from sediment, or low-flowing from excessive withdrawals, we can’t rely on it for water for ourselves or the wildlife that surrounds it. In order to protect this shared resource, we need to ensure the health of the water bodies in our communities by protecting local water quality. 

No dumping; this drains to ocean

Protect Water Resources Where You Live: What you can do (and photograph!)

You get why water resources are important, but what kinds of things should you be on the lookout for in your community to help protect your watershed? If you see any of these common threats and decide to take action, snap a photo and enter it into the contest for a chance to win.  

Erosion and sediment: Whether it’s from exposed soil in your yard or a construction site in your neighborhood, loose dirt and sediment can be dislodged during a precipitation event and carried into a local waterway. When waters get too turbid from mud and silt, the cloudy water may block sunlight from reaching aquatic plants growing at the stream bed or lake bottom, threatening the vegetation and wildlife inhabiting the waters.

  • What you can do: If you own the land where you see erosion occurring, consider planting native species to serve as ground cover. Their roots will hold the soil in place while helping to absorb rainwater. Look for plants native to your area here: https://www.wildflower.org/collections/

Over-use of fertilizers: When it comes to these products, a little can go a long way—all the way to the local water body. If these products are over-applied, accidentally spread on a driveway or sidewalk, or applied just before a rainstorm, excess nutrients from the fertilizer can build up in rivers and streams, contributing to harmful algal blooms.

  • What you can do: Always read and follow the application directions on the product, and check the forecast before applying fertilizer to make sure that it won’t wash away. If the soil you’re working with isn’t too infertile, consider composting instead as a cost-saving alternative.

Yard waste on curbs or in storm drains: When organic matter like leaves and grass clipping break down, it provides nutrients to the surrounding ecosystem. While this can be good in a garden, it can also contribute to harmful algal blooms and dead zones in water bodies.

  • What you can do: Consider mulching yard waste to serve as compost or moisture guards in your garden. Your community may also have the option to request a roll-top container for yard waste, keeping this debris off the streets.

Household refuse on curbs or in storm drains: Whether it’s a soda bottle or a paint can, keep household refuse from washing into local water bodies. Garbage collecting in a water body can leach harmful chemicals into the water, break down into smaller particles that can harm the health of aquatic wildlife, and ruin the aesthetic appeal of a local waterway.

  • What you can do: Reduce, reuse, and recycle to cut down on your household refuse. Check out http://www.earth911.com/ to see where you can take more unconventional materials to be recycled, including things like outdated electronics, used motor oil, and old carpeting. If you know of a water body in your neighborhood that is already affected by trash, consider organizing a community cleanup to remedy the situation.

Pet waste: This is just another type of fertilizer, and can add excess nutrients into local waterways to the same effect.

  • What you can do: Always pick up after your pet, even if it’s in your own yard. Though you may not get complaints from neighbors if Fido is keeping it to his own territory, rain will wash these nutrients into a local creek regardless of your property line.

Polluted beaches: Whether they’re littered with refuse leftover from beachgoers or debris that’s washed up with the tides, polluted beaches aren’t on anyone’s must-see list. Crummy coasts are more than just an eye-sore, however. Marine debris (solid trash found in the marine environment or the Great Lakes) kills and injures marine life, interferes with navigational safety, and can pose a threat to human health.

  • What you can do: Most marine debris starts at home—or close to it. Littering, dumping, or filling over-flowing trash containers out on the streets can allow debris into storm drains, where it may be carried out into the ocean. Make sure you’re disposing of waste properly, and identifying and removing recyclables where appropriate. If there’s a beach near your home that’s looking the worse for wear, consider organizing a community cleanup to tackle the problem.

These are just some suggestions of things you can do to protect water quality and submit to the contest--it isn't everything! Check out tips from the US EPAAlliance for the Great Lakes, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation for more ideas on protecting water quality where you live. 

Do Your Part to Protect Water Quality



Before you begin: Safety

 Before you head out to take part in protecting water quality in your watershed, stop to make sure you’re in the clear:

  • If you are under the age of 16, get an adult to help you with your water quality activity.
  • Obey all posted signage and current advisories: If there is any posted signage near a water body in your area, obey the sign’s instructions. Check to see if there are any advisories for water in your area before heading out. Whether it’s a no-fish sign, a warning against swimming, or an alert about a harmful algal bloom, always make sure you’re following local ordinances and protecting your health.
  • Do not go on to private property for any of these activities without the express permission of the property owner.
  • Keep an eye out for algal blooms: There may be some areas where algal blooms are threatening a water body, but signage has not yet been installed to warn the community. If you see a lake or pond that has a floating algae mat, scum layer, or discoloration, don’t allow children or pets to play in or drink the water. Contact your local health or natural resources department to report any particularly large blooms and always obey posted signs for beach closings and health warnings.
  • If you are participating in a cleanup, make sure there is an adult present. Avoid touching anything sharp, corrosive, unmanageably heavy, or otherwise dangerous to your person. Do not touch any animals you may come across.


No purchase necessary. All contest participants must be residents of the US, who as of April 11, 2016 are at least 13 years of age and meet all eligibility requirements. Void where prohibited. Click here for complete rules: #H2OBigPicture Photo Contest Rules.