watersheds.org the world in your watershed search
homewhat's newabout ussite mapcontact us

Places What is a Watershed

What is a Watershed?

Every area of the earth in which water falls on land is called a "watershed."

Drawing by Sarah, Ava Elementary School

We all live in a watershed. 

Watersheds come in all shapes and sizes. Some are huge, like the Mississippi River Basin. Some are local creeks and rivers, like Bryant Creek or North Fork River. 

"Almost all water that falls inside a watershed boundary flows into a river or stream." Brian, Ava Elementary School

The best way to understand what a watershed is and how it works is to picture it as a bowl or basin. A group of watersheds within the same large area is called a basin.

Smaller watersheds within a basin nest inside each other, like a set of bowls. A watershed is named after its biggest river or stream. Look at our map slide show to see what we mean.

Slide Show
Click for slide show
Rivers and Watersheds

Drawing by Miranda, Ava Elementary School
When we think of things that shed water, usually it is an umbrella that first comes to mind! Our purpose here, however, is to catch water, not reject it. 

Watersheds catch rain and snowfall and channel it into brooks, creeks, springs, streams and, eventually, rivers. 

"The watershed looks like a branch, or lots of rivers draining into one big river."Meagan, Ava Elementary School
The tops of watersheds, where they join, are at the highest points of land, called ridges. Ridges divide areas, so that on one side of them, rivers and streams flow in one direction, and on the other side, they flow in another direction.

Click for a tale of two raindrops
The Ozark Divide is one such ridge. It is the highest point of land dividing southern Missouri from central Missouri, and it passes along the very top of the Bryant Creek watershed, at Cedar Gap.

"There are many different watersheds. I live in the Beaver Creek watershed and at the end of the Bryant Creek watershed."
Alan, Ava Elementary School
Where do you live? Click for watershed maps

Local Watersheds Map

For Teachers:
Watersheds Resource Packet

Watersheds Watersheds Everywhere
A lesson plan on the concept of watersheds, using local watersheds maps.