What are Watersheds?

Next time you’re at your local gas station, take a look at some of the maps they have for

Who can really fold these? I mean, honestly?

Who can really fold these? I mean, honestly?

sale. When you look, you may see (depending on the map) the state borders, county borders, cities, popular parks and trails, roads and highways, and possibly a dozen other landmarks deemed important.

These are the borders that are man-made.  We have placed these lines upon the land to mark where certain areas of government are able to govern.

Now, if you look a little closer, you may notice how there are little blue lines and blobs. These represent the rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds. These are natural borders. They show, with a little diligence and research, where local watersheds are located.

Maps like these, such as you find in a convenience store, aren’t primarily focused on letting the reader know where these water lines are located.  You have to do some digging for that.

But, what is a watershed? It’s an area of land (large or small) that catches water which drains into the waters that you see around you, such as lakes and streams. However, a watershed also includes the water beneath the surface, the water you DON’T see.

Minnesota has eight distinct watersheds, which are comprised of smaller watersheds.

Minnesota has eight distinct watersheds, which are comprised of smaller watersheds.

Every piece of land is part of a watershed. And, it’s important to know this, because that means YOU are sitting in a watershed right now. Your home, work, school, forests, city, county, and entire country is comprised of watersheds. These come in all shapes and sizes. Some are millions of square miles, while others are only a few acres.

No matter which watershed you are sitting in, that watershed is directly connected with a larger watershed, as it drains into the larger one. This can be a great thing, or lead to problems.

For instance, take a look at the Mississippi river. If there is a farm or factory in St. Cloud, MN that doesn’t take care of waste properly, and simply chooses to allow waste run-off into the groundwater, that can come to effect the next watershed up the line. Now, imagine if all farms or factories in the watersheds up the line of the giant Mississippi watershed chose to follow suit? Multiply that by the number of watersheds connected to the Mississippi watershed, and you get the idea. 

Any run-off that happens in the upper area of the river, will influence lower parts of the river. And, since the Mississippi river is a  HUGE collection of hundreds of different tinier watersheds, anything that happens in these smaller watersheds will directly drain into the Mississippi.

Think of a series of watersheds as a long and winding “chain o’ command”. You’ve got

The United States is made of

The large watersheds that form the United States are made of many many smaller watersheds.

your PFC Local Watershed. He’s in charge of the twenty acres around a small pond in central Minnesota. His task is to keep the local water collected via rainfall moved through to the next higher up in the chain. Everything is groovy if each PFC in the region uses techniques that ensure clean (or at least non-polluted) water. However, if PFC Local Watersheds chooses to allow a farm or factory in it’s borders that doesn’t utilize proper techniques, that source of water can be a problem up the “chain”.

What the US would look like if the 50 states were shaped by watersheds.

What the US would look like if the 50 states were shaped by watersheds.

Well, if every watershed were to follow poor techniques throughout the watershed “chain o’ command”, then poor old General Global Watershed, who is responsible for the cleanliness of the world’s water supply, will have a problem on his hands, because he is in charge of ALL the problems that may happen earlier in the watershed chain. If the majority of smaller local watersheds are not responsible, the larger watersheds are hit with the damage.

But, this isn’t the post to start laying blame. This is an introduction to the concept of understanding that all water is shared.  What we do to one part of the water cycle can taint another part of the loop. Therefore, we all need to be vigilant in our management of water.

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