What is a Watershed Anyway?
A watershed is a geographic region in which water drains into a body of water like a lake or a river. Think of a watershed as the roof of your house. The roof is equivalent to the land, where the water runs off and the gutters would be the streams where the water is collected. Watersheds include both the land and the water body, which is also known as a drainage basin. This drainage basin collects all of the precipitation as it either runs off the land or percolates through the soil before reentering the stream.
So you may be asking yourself: Why the sudden interest in watersheds? Well, quite simply, it makes sense. It makes sense to learn about the watersheds we live and work in and the ecosystems they support. Everything in nature is connected, from microscopic bacteria to gigantic Sequoia. One affects the other. Aldo Leopold said “To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.” This could not be more true. We cannot conserve the waters and waste the land. We must take a holistic approach.
The mountains divide the landscape into ecological units (watersheds) within which we can identify and address environmental problems. Many of the issues are difficult or even impossible to address within political boundaries, such as the limits of a city or county. A county may only contain a segment of the river. We may be able to correct a point source discharge such as sewage flowing out of a pipe and into the river in our segment, but that may not have been the “Big” problem. Non-point pollution, or polluted runoff from farms, urban areas and forests, is a more severe problem. These problems need to be addressed on a watershed level to be handled effectively.
A watershed focus is valuable because it involves everyone from farmers and miners to businesses and concerned citizens. Although everyone mentioned may and probably will see things very differently, it requires that we work cooperatively to reach a common goal. It is this diversity of individuals that leads to success. Remember: “We all live in a watershed!”