Answering the Age Old Question: What is a Watershed?

The word "watershed" is one of those wishy-washy words that you may hear but not exactly know what it means. The truth however is that everyone lives in a watershed, and no matter where you are, you have found yourself in someone's watershed. So for the sake of keeping our fresh water clean, safe, and healthy, terms like "watershed" and "watershed science" are pretty important.

The EPA defines watershed as "an area of land that drains water, sediment and dissolved materials to a common receiving body or outlet." But what exactly does this mean? Whenever water gets deposited on land through precipitation like rain or snow, it has to flow eventually into some body of water. For those who live in the Purgatoire Watershed in Southern Colorado, imagine the Purgatoire River as a giant net, collecting rain and snow melt from many different sources, like the Sangre de Cristo mountains. All that land where the precipitation eventually drains into the Purgatoire River is a part of the Purgatoire Watershed.

So if that's a watershed, watershed ecology is the study of the interaction between all the living and non-living factors within the boundaries of a watershed. This includes everything from the geology and chemistry of the dirt, critters living in the rivers, and human influences as well. These are all important factors to consider when managing a watershed.

As it turns out, only 3% of Earth's water is freshwater, and only about 0.3% of all that freshwater is accessible as water in our rivers, lakes, and other surface waters. While water does cycle between the ocean, ground, air, and surface waters, it is important that we take care of our water for drinking, irrigating, recreating, and ecological balance. That is why the Purgatoire Watershed Partnership invites all stakeholders to have a voice in the Purgatoire River Watershed, so that we can continue to preserve the quality of life that we experience from having a source of fresh, clean water.


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Email: jknudson@purgatoirepartners.org