What is a Watershed?

What is a Watershed?

To put it simply, a watershed is the area of land where all of the water that is under it or drains off of it goes into the same place. It is a land feature that can be identified by tracing a line along the highest elevations between two areas on a map. Not only does water run into the streams and rivers from the surface of the watershed, but water also filters through the soil, and some of this water eventually drains into the same streams and rivers.  A typical watershed starts with small, typically spring-fed, streams in the higher areas of the drainage basin. Water from these streams flow downhill and join to form larger and larger streams, thus increasing the volume of water. The stream/river eventually makes its way to an estuary, pond or lake.

Watersheds are directly related to water and water quality on Prince Edward Island.  As Islanders rely solely on groundwater for their drinking water supply, the health of our watersheds is of the utmost importance.  However, the health of a watershed does not only impact humans; wildlife rely on them for their water and habitat. Birds, mammals, fish and insects depend on their environment for survival. The more we can do to improve our watershed ecosystems, the more ALL life will benefit.

How do WE affect our watersheds?

Anything we do to the land will affect our water and watersheds, either by how it flows or what flows into it. With the construction of new homes and businesses comes the removal of vegetation; vegetation helps slow the movement of water on the land. When plant life is replaced by asphalt or driveways, water can move faster within a watershed, often taking silt or pollutants along with it. Chemicals, such as pesticides or fertilizers, seriously negatively impact fish and wildlife, often leading to too little oxygen or too many nutrients in the water.

Polluted Watershed (Picture: Burley’s Science)
There are many ways in which we affect our watersheds, and we must work towards minimizing our impact on our most important natural resource.
Runoff (Picture: WakeCountry)
Nonexistent or too-small buffer zones are also a factor in water contamination or sedimentation. And don’t forget about how litter impacts our environment!