Overview of Watersheds
Watershed... the word means a parting, a shedding of waters. But a watershed is a gathering place also. It is a place where hills and plains and people's lives are connected by falling rain and flowing water.
A watershed is measured by the hilltops and ridges that are its boundaries. It is shaped by the hills, valleys and plains that are the landscape, and is tempered by the forests, fields, lakes, and marshes that are habitats for its creatures. Most of us know a watershed through its streams and rivers that connect forest with farm, and farm with city... and each of us changes the watershed day by day, bit by bit, as we go about the business of our lives.
In a watershed, the rain, the rivers, the lakes and wetlands, even our drinking water are all parts of an intricate cycle. Rain falling on the land soaks into the earth; some runs off to streams; some evaporates before it ever reaches the earth. The water that soaks into the ground becomes part of the ground water and feeds streams and wetlands and supplies much of our drinking water. Surface runoff forms streams, then rivers that eventually empty into our oceans. Rivers are the sign that the cycle is working... returning water to the oceans where it evaporates, forms clouds, and falls again.
Watersheds and People
A change in the watershed affects our lives... a change that we make in the landscape affects the watershed. It's all connected. Nature's changes can be as quiet as branches building up behind a fallen log and changing the path of a stream. Or they can be as dramatic as a winter flood. Our actions, too, can be subtle or very dramatic... but they all affect someone or something. When we cut forests, clear land, lay concrete and asphalt, and build houses and towns we cause changes in the watershed. Those changes mean the water cycle works differently.
Rain striking the ground has fewer places to soak in gradually... runoff is faster and more violent... causing erosion and flooding. Water quality deteriorates as water drains from farms and cities carrying pesticides, animal waste, oil and heavy metals into our ground water, streams, and eventually, rivers. Streams and fish habitat are damaged. Salmon, especially, have difficulty surviving when streams run faster and streambanks are cleared.
The watershed, the water cycle and our lives are all connected. Any action, anywhere, affects the land, the water, and ultimately, us.
Headwaters: Source of a stream.
Watershed: The land from which rain collects and runs to a single point.
Ground water: Water that lies beneath the earth's surface.
Infiltration: The slow movement of water from the surface to the ground water.
Hydrologic: Related to water in all its forms.
Aquifer: An underground water supply flowing through rock
Why Monitor Watersheds?
Increasingly, State and Tribal water resource professionals are turning to watershed management as a means for achieving greater results from their programs. Why? Because managing water resource programs on a watershed basis makes good sense -- environmentally, financially, and socially.
Better Environmental Results
Because watersheds are defined by natural hydrology, they represent the most logical basis for managing water resources. The resource becomes the focal point, and managers are able to gain a more complete understanding of overall conditions in an area, and the stressors which affect those conditions.
Traditionally, water quality improvements have focused on specific sources of pollution, such as sewage discharges, or specific water resources, such as a river segment or wetland. While this approach may be successful in addressing specific problems, it often fails to address the more subtle and chronic problems that contribute to a watersheds decline. For example, pollution from a sewage treatment plant might be reduced significantly after a new technology is installed, and yet the local river may still suffer if other factors in the watershed, such as habitat destruction or polluted runoff, go unaddressed. Watershed management can offer a stronger foundation for uncovering the many stressors that affect a watershed. The result is management better equipped to determine what actions are needed to protect or restore the resource.
Saving Time and Money
Besides the environmental payoff, watershed approaches can have the added benefit of saving time and money. Whether the task is monitoring, modeling, issuing permits, or reporting, a watershed framework offers many opportunities to simplify and streamline the workload. For example, synchronizing monitoring schedules so that all monitoring within a given area (i.e., a watershed) occurs within the same time frame can eliminate duplicative trips and greatly reduce travel costs.
Efficiency is also increased once all agencies with natural resource responsibilities begin to work together to improve conditions in a watershed. In its truest sense, watershed protection engages all partners within a watershed, including Federal, State, Tribal and local agencies. By coordinating their efforts, these agencies can complement and reinforce each other's activities, avoid duplication, and leverage resources to achieve greater results.
Data collection is one activity that is particularly ripe for greater cooperation and coordination. For example, a State can reduce its own monitoring costs by factoring in the monitoring activities of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Resource Conservation Service. In addition, permittees and other stakeholders that generate ambient monitoring data can form basin-monitoring consortiums to pool resources and provide the State with greater consistency in collecting and reporting data.
Greater Public Support
Watershed protection can also lead to greater awareness and support from the public. Once individuals become aware of and interested in their watershed, they often become more involved in decision-making as well as hands-on protection and restoration efforts. Through such involvement, watershed approaches build a sense of community, help reduce conflicts, increase commitment to the actions necessary to meet environmental goals, and ultimately, improve the likelihood of success for environmental programs.
Additional Watershed Links:
City of Indianapolis WATERWISE
EPA - Surf Your Watershed
NWF - Saving Our Watershed Field Guide
For more information Contact:
Water Quality: 317.221.2266
Adam Rickert - firstname.lastname@example.org
Joe Ketterman - email@example.com
Geographic Information Systems: 317.221.2050
Joan Keene - firstname.lastname@example.org
Troy Divis - email@example.com