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Municipal Operations and Watershed Informational Network


A watershed is an area in which all the rainfall drains into a specific body of water. Every river, creek, stream, swamp, etc. has a watershed; and wherever you are, you are in a watershed.


HUC is an acronym for Hydrologic Unit Code. Every watershed in the US has its own series of identifying numbers; the total number of digits increases as the size of the watershed gets smaller.


The Department of Conservation and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) have recently revised the hydrologic unit boundaries. There are now 2264 identified watersheds in the nation.

What Is a Watershed and Why Do We Need Them

Watersheds are an important factor to the environment around us. They funnel water into streams, lakes, ponds, and oceans. The surrounding environment contributes a large part to where these watersheds are located and the substances, minerals, and toxins that are collected. Watersheds carry water to streams, which then carries that water to rivers, then to lakes and oceans, and so on. So, why should a person care about watersheds? Why is there a need to be aware of them? In this article, we will discuss more in-depth about why watersheds are important and why we all should be doing a better job at managing and maintaining them.


what is the watershed science definition

What is the Watershed Science Definition

You might be asking, what exactly is a watershed? Well, just look down. The ground you are standing on is watershed. The definition of a watershed is an area of land that water falls on that then drains into a body of water. It literally sheds water. You can think of it as sort of a funnel where rainwater falls onto an area of land, gathers, and drains into a nearby stream, river, lake, wetland, or ocean. Watersheds can range in size from a footprint to hundreds of miles in diameter. Sometimes referred to drainage basins or catchments, watersheds are important to humans and nature alike.


what is the importance of a watershed

What is the Importance of a Watershed?

You now might be wondering, why is a watershed important? Why should I care? Watersheds have importance because quality of the water that flows into a river or other water source is affected by whatever is going on in the watershed area, whether human-created or not. It is important we, as humans, make sure that we keep the area around us clear and free of toxins and other substances that could pollute our water supply.

If we ignore the growing pollution that gathers in these watersheds, our water supply and the nature that it contains will become scarce and unusable. There are many things that we as humans can do to try and prevent a situation like this from happening.


facts about watersheds

Facts About Watersheds

As stated above, watersheds are all around us. The activities of our daily lives affect the contents of our water supply. That’s why it’s important that we recognize these key facts about the things we should do to protect our watersheds:

  • Conserve water by taking shorter showers
  • Cut back on the amount you drive
  • Do not pour oil into a storm drain
  • Never pour toxic chemicals down the drain
  • Limit the amount of fertilizer you use on your landscape
  • Be sure to pick up the waste of your pet

It is extremely important that we keep these points in mind in our daily lives. If we can all do this, imagine how pristine our water would be. It is important for each community to create some sort of plan or course of action to help manage this growing threat to the water supply. This isn’t an issue that’s going anywhere; as long as humans rely on water for survival, it is important to take proper care of that water supply.


what is watershed management

What is Watershed Management

How can we manage our local watershed? The first step in watershed management is to create a plan; some course of action that is going to benefit the area around you. Water runoff collects a ton of toxins and other harmful substances as it flows to a body of water. Limiting the amount of these substances that it picks up along the way is the idea behind watershed management and why it is important.

The second step to watershed management is to create a partnership with the people that are affected by the surrounding watershed. This will help like-minded people come together and come up with ways that they can get their local city or municipality involved. It is also important to include surrounding municipalities in the planning process because most of the time, a watershed’s boundaries extend across political borders.


What is a Watershed Boundary

Your next question might be, what is a watershed boundary? The answer is exactly as it appears. It is a boundary that separates two different watersheds. These boundaries are typically identified using a topographic map that shows different elevation points where water is likely to flow in the same general direction. The process of drawing these water boundaries on a map is referred to watershed delineation. The contour lines on a topographical graph are of equal elevation.

So, any point along that line is of the same elevation. Watershed boundaries are identified as the highest points of elevations that encompass the watershed. This means that all of the rainwater that falls into this plain funnels to the same place. These boundaries can be natural or man-made. In fact, there are ways that humans can develop watersheds in order to benefit their surrounding environments.


what is a watershed development and how does it benefit an area

What is Watershed Development and How Does it Benefit an Area

The idea behind watershed develop is to conserve and regenerate all water that falls within a specific area of land. The main objectives are to control the corrosion of soil and movement of gushing water by creating different contours and barriers in the land. By controlling the flow of runoff, you can ensure that the river or body of water it is flowing to won’t flood with excess water.

By contouring the land, you ensure that soil doesn’t erode away and cause a buildup of silt in the body of water it flows to. Watershed development is a solution to two major problems that occur within a watershed: drought and flooding. It is thus important for groups of people to get together to discuss methods of watershed development that would benefit their surrounding community.


what major river system is a watershed

What Major River System is in a Watershed

All rivers, small and large, are located at the base of a few or many watersheds. In fact, there are 78 major watersheds in the continental United States. These watersheds collect water and flow into the major river systems. For example, the watershed for the Delaware River extends from the Catskills and Pocono Mountains, navigating four states along the way, and flowing into the Atlantic Ocean. By the time the river has reached the Atlantic, more than 12,500 square miles of watershed has emptied into the river.

Scientists have created a “stream ordering” system. This system orders rivers based on their size, with 1st order being the smallest. When two 1st order streams merge, they form a 2nd order stream. When two 2nd order streams merge, they form a 3rd order steam, and so on and so forth. The Delaware River is considered a 7th order stream. For reference, the Mississippi is a 10th order and the Amazon is a 12th order.


what defines the boundary between one watershed and another

What Defines the Boundary Between One Watershed and Another

Defining the boundary between one watershed and another is a tedious task. There are different factors that go into defining which watershed is which. One of those major factors in differing between watersheds is identifying which body of water the runoff drains into. These boundaries are typically determined by topographical high spots in the area; these could be anything from a mountain to a small hill.

The Watershed Boundary Dataset (WBD) is being developed by the Subcommittee on Spatial Water Data. This data is gathered completely independently of any political or governmental influence, extending across national and international borders. This data is gathered and then made available to everyone through the Geospatial Data Gateway; it is then used by different governmental agencies, private organizations, concerned citizens, etc. This information is very useful when it comes to planning different projects that involves using water or land in a way that may disrupt these natural watersheds.


what is the largest water basin in the us

What is the Largest Water Basin in the US

There are 18 major river basins in the continental United States. The largest water basin in the US is the Mississippi River basin. The basin of the Mississippi spans an astonishing 1,151,000 square miles, stretching all the way from Southeastern Alberta, Canada, to Southwestern New York State, to down South at its mouth in Louisiana. A few of the major river systems that flow into the Mississippi River are the Missouri, Arkansas, Ohio, Illinois, and Red Rivers.

The Mississippi River System is responsible for a large portion of the United States’ commerce, especially agricultural exports. Without this river system, it is likely that the Midwestern US would not have become incorporated. This water basin encompasses all or parts of 31 states and 2 Canadian provinces, about 40% of the land area of the continental United States, making it the fourth largest drainage basin the world. Millions of people rely on this water to be clean and free of harmful chemicals so that they can safely use it in their daily lives.


how is a watershed related to a river system

How is a Watershed Related to a River System

You might be wondering how a watershed is related to a river system. The answer is fairly simple: watersheds contribute the source to many river systems. Any rain or snow that falls will eventually make its way to some river system. There are a plethora of watersheds within a river basin, contributing to a river system.

For instance, the primary source of the Mississippi River is Lake Itasca in Minnesota. The source of this lake are small rivers and streams that are fed by springs and runoff from rainwater that falls in the watershed of those streams. It is important to keep these watersheds free of pollutants and other toxins that could cause an adverse situation for people downstream.


how does a watershed area help the environment

How Does a Watershed Area Help the Environment

It is important that we as humans do everything possible to keep our trash and other pollutants out of our local watersheds and conserving water by limiting unnecessary usage. By doing this, we can ensure not only the safety of the drinking water, but also the safety and health of our surrounding environment. Maintaining a healthy watershed area helps the environment in several different ways:

  • Conserves water for streams, lakes, rivers, etc.
  • Provides healthy soil for crops and livestock
  • Supplies thriving habitat for wild plants and animals
  • Improves air quality by supply water to plants that absorb carbon dioxide
  • Plus much more

If each of us does small things to limit the negative impact that we have on our local watershed, we can create a better environment for all of us to thrive in. Every little thing we do can have a major impact; so let it be a positive one.


what is a drainage basin

What is a Drainage Basin

Earlier, we touched on drainage basins; but exactly what is a drainage basin? The term ‘drainage basin’ is often used interchangeable with ‘watershed.’ It’s an area of land that collects runoff that then flows to a stream, lake, pond, river, etc. Drainage basins are separated by topographical boundaries, such as hills or mountains. The water runs downhill, sometimes running into some sort of depression or barrier in the ground, creating small bodies of water, such as ponds, and even large bodies of water, such as lakes. Every stream has a drainage basin. Technically, where you are standing right now is a drainage basin. Essentially, any area of land on which water flows is a drainage basin.

What is a River Basin

If that’s what a drainage basin is, then what is a river basin? A river basin is pretty similar to a drainage basin. It is an area of land that water flows through on its way to a river. You can think of a river basin as a bathtub, catching all of the surrounding water and allowing it to flow to one single source. These river basins can be divided into smaller, more concentrated watersheds.

The major difference between watersheds and river basins is the size of the body of water that each supply water for. Watersheds generally provide water to only small bodies of water, such as streams or wetlands. River basins, on the other hand, supply water to major rivers and other large bodies of water. The health of both is essential for a thriving ecosystem.

Why are Watersheds Important

We’ve touched on many of the reasons of why watersheds are important to the environment around us. Every little thing that is done to a watershed will have some sort of impact downstream. Ensuring that we keep the area around us clean will help our environment breathe a little easier. Pick up trash, drive your car a little less, don’t pour toxic chemicals down the drain; doing little things like this can have an enormous positive impact on the watershed in our community.

Watersheds are essential for the lively hood of, not only wild animals, plants, and livestock, but also humans that consume all of those things. It is important to monitor the watershed that our home resides on; watch for erosion that might redirect the natural flow of water. Any small change like this could cause a flood in your area, affecting not just you, but your neighbors, as well. Always keep an eye out to make sure that people are picking up their trash and throwing it away properly.

Also, recycle more. It is a simple solution that can help keep plastic and paper from polluting the water.

How Does a Watershed Help Manage Water Drainage

Watersheds are essential to water drainage. Without watershed, water would just collect wherever it fell, flooding the surrounding area. We would all be living under or above water if watersheds did not exist. It is important that humans do their best not to disrupt the natural flow of water. When the flow of water is disrupted, it can cause water to be scarce in one place and an excess of water in another. All of that rainwater has to go somewhere.

So when construction projects occur, it is important that whoever is in charge takes into account the surrounding watershed and where all of the water flows. Thankfully, most construction companies take these things into account, but it cannot be stressed enough about how important it is. These buildings, roads, etc. need to be built in a way that works with the surrounding environment, not against it.


what is a watershed moment

What is a Watershed Moment

There are terms and phrases that have come into existence due to watersheds. One of these terms is watershed moment. A watershed moment is a term that describes a critical time or turning point usually relating to a political or historical event. It is often described as a moment of epiphany, a sort of “aha” or “eureka” moment, where something is first discovered, sparking a turning point or change. For instance, Einstein discovering the theory of relativity was a watershed moment.

It makes sense how the original term “watershed” can spark this phrase into existence. A watershed is described as ridge or area of land that divides the flow of water to two bodies of water. That divide that separates the area of land alludes to the separation of two periods of time: all of the time before an event occurs and then all of the time after.

Just as Einstein changed the way we understand moving objects with the theory of general relativity. Watershed moments happen every so often in history and have a large impact on the way things are studied and looked upon.

What is the Importance of a Watershed

Throughout this article we have discussed the importance of watersheds and why it is necessary to keep them clean and free of toxic substances. Let’s dive a little further into the substances that pollute watersheds.

One of those toxic substances is waste from our pets. It is believed that one in three households in the United States has a dog; that’s nearly 43 million dogs living in this country alone. With this immense number of dogs comes a large amount of waste that they produce. What many people do not know is that this waste contains various viruses and bacteria. If owners do not pick up this waste, it can flow into rivers, lakes, streams, etc. and contaminate the water supply. It is important that pet owners pick up after their pets and properly dispose of the feces in the trash.

Another way that toxic materials contaminate the water supply is through improper disposal of household chemicals. These chemicals can include anything from paint to cleaning supplies. If disposed of improperly, such as pouring them down the drain, they can enter the water supply and disrupt its chemical balance.

These chemicals affect the pH balance of streams, lakes, rivers, creeks, etc. and cause an unsafe habitat for wildlife. So, how do you properly dispose of these chemicals? Usually, there is something on the label of the bottle or can that gives you specific instructions on how the chemical can be disposed of properly. If there are no instructions, a simple internet search can be an informative way to gather disposal information on a specific substance.

In addition to waste from pets and household chemicals, excess use of fertilizers and/or pesticides have an adverse affect on water supply. If more than enough is used, any running water that comes into contact with it, such as rainwater or sprinkler water, can pick up the excess fertilizer or pesticide and contaminate the runoff, subsequently affecting the body of water that it flows into. It is important to always read the instructions to see what amount is recommended for your lawn.

To keep our watersheds pristine, it is important to follow proper instructions for disposal of potentially harmful substances. Every single substance that makes its way to a watershed can and will have an affect on the body of water in which it runs.


what is a watershed

What are Watersheds

In conclusion, it is important to recognize what a watershed is and why we need them. Watersheds are extremely important the ecosystem that we all live in. Watersheds dispose of all water that flows on its respective area of land into large bodies of waters. As humans, it is quintessential that we keep our watersheds free of any harmful substances.

Communities around the world are coming together to create plans of action to protect their local watersheds. It’s an issue that extends across local, national, and international borders – an issue that can bring together communities that would have likely never come together in the first place. Understanding watersheds and using all of these tips on how to keep them clean and maintained will only benefit us in the future.



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