If I asked you to draw a watershed, what would you draw?
Across the country, when most people are asked, responses range from a sauna or an outhouse to something that looks like a garden shed and a water tower blended together. Few get it right. Let’s draw a more accurate picture.
Land sheds water much like our cheeks shed tears or a tin roof sheds water in a rain storm. Unlike the smooth contours of our cheeks and tin roofs, however, land is made up of ridges and basins—areas where water sheds off the surface and areas where it collects. A watershed is an area of land where all water drains to the same place—such as a lake or river at the bottom of a valley.
Watersheds vary in shape and size. There are over 2,000 watersheds in the United States alone—from the Mississippi River Watershed, which drains 40 percent of the continental U.S. into the Gulf of Mexico, to the West River Watershed here in New Haven County, Connecticut, which drains 35 square miles or less than 1 percent of all the land in the state into Long Island Sound.
Large or small, some things are true of every watershed: A river alone is not a watershed; all land is a part of a watershed; all people live in a watershed; and what people do to the land and water in a watershed impacts the health of the lakes, rivers, and oceans downstream.
Rarely does water submit to the political boundaries we set for ourselves. Long Island Sound’s watershed sprawls across five states and the Canadian border. At Connecticut Fund for the Environment/Save the Sound, we are working to protect and restore the water and resources of Long Island Sound by helping both local residents and decision-makers to look past property lines and political boundaries and think on a watershed scale.
In the coming weeks, we’re going to step into our own back yard and take a closer look at pollution problems in the West River watershed—from source to Sound. Join us as we talk about watershed-scale planning efforts that are underway to help make the West River safe for humans and animals to enjoy.