What is a Watershed?

Graphic courtesy of www.watershed.org

Iowans have probably heard this term thrown around in conversation lately as the issue of water quality in Iowa has taken center stage in recent months. But what exactly is a watershed? Surely not a shed full of water! So what, as informed citizens of a state on the cusp of change, do we need to know about watersheds?

A watershed is all of the land that collects and drains the water within a specific area into the same location or body of water. The highest points surrounding a drainage basin define the boundaries between watersheds. Water flows from these high points down to a common low point within these  boundaries. Every drop that travels through the land is channeled into various bodies of water as it percolates down through the soil into groundwater as well as into creeks and streams. From there, this water makes its way into larger river systems and eventually into oceans.

But a watershed is more than just the rivers, lakes, and wetlands that make up the landscape. Everything that sits within a drainage basin is an important part of a watershed - from housing developments to farms, from woodlands to schools, roads and parking lots as well as the soils resting beneath. And it is also you! What you do and how you live within the landscape has far reaching effects. Holding water where it falls through selected vegetation, rain gardens and the impervious surfaces of your home and concrete drives all have an effect on others. Most important to remember, we all live in a watershed and are passively but intimately connected to one another because of it.

Photo courtesy of Aaron Wilson-Crumb
Activities within our watersheds directly affect not only the environment, our economy and society but also the health of every organism living in our own watersheds as well as those downstream.  As water traverses the land and into waterways, pollutants are picked up and carried downstream. Can you guess what is Iowa's #1 water pollutant? Volunteer a guess in the comments below - answer to be revealed in next month's blog! How we treat the land and the water that flows through it is vitally important for future generations of all communities including plants, animals and people.

A healthy watershed = a healthier world.

Here at Polk County Conservation, local watershed health has become a high priority. Management of drainage areas specifically at Easter Lake Park, Fort Des Moines Park, Chichaqua Bottoms Greenbelt and in the Fourmile Creek watershed is taking precedence. In an effort to improve upstream behaviors, consistent inventory and monitoring in areas of concern will be occurring within Polk County.

Stay tuned next month to see Polk County Conservation in action as we work diligently to protect one of our greatest natural resources!


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