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Extension > Garden > SULIS > Design > Shoreland Landscape Design, Maintenance, and Management to Protect Water Quality > Watershed Education

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Watershed Education

The term watershed is one we hear a great deal about these days. Where do you go to find a watershed and how will you know when you see it? The answer is simple: no matter where you are, you are in a watershed. A watershed is the land area that drains storm - water and runoff into a surface body of water such as a lake, river, or wetland. Visualize a watershed as a funnel.


Nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus that are found in fertilizers, leaves, and grass clippings, promote the growth of algae, reduce water clarity, and diminish water quality.

How a particular watershed functions depends, in part, on the type of location it is in - rural or urban. In rural settings, without storm sewers, most water entering lakes and rivers does so directly as runoff from the surrounding landscape or via streams. In agricultural areas, there may be additional drainage from farm fields that have drain tile systems. To learn some techniques to reduce runoff, see Section 2: Vegetative Buffer Zones.

Urban watersheds work a little differently. Storm water is drained from the landscape through storm sewer systems as illustrated below.


An impervious surface is any hard surface that doesn't allow water to soak in, such as streets and parking lots. The more impervious surfaces in a landscape, the more runoff water finds its way to lakes and streams. Runoff incorporates everything in the water's path including fertilizer, pesticides, eroded soil, and soapy water from washing cars.

Imagine a raindrop hitting your roof as it begins its journey to a storm sewer. It runs down the roof, into a rain gutter, across your sidewalk or driveway, into the street, along the curb, and finally down the storm sewer and to the lake. Every curb is connected to a shoreline. To learn more about protecting urban watersheds see Section 6: Landscape Maintenance and Management.

Resources For Additional Information On Watersheds

Hamline University's Center for Global Environmental Education has two Web sites available for watershed education.

  • contains K-12 watershed education material with an extensive list of links
  • Waters to the Sea CD-ROM interactive program uses several exercises to teach watershed education. One example follows a raindrop's journey from a rooftop to a surface body of water. The CD was produced in conjunction with the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District. View a demo of the CD or place an order at:
  • Streets to Streams video produced in conjunction with the St. Paul Energy Consortium is also available from the above Web site.
University of Minnesota Extension
  • Rivers: Ribbons of Life video #VH-7542 looks at the importance of land management practices along rivers and the significance of broader land-use decisions within watersheds. The video can be viewed at:
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
  • Living In The Landscape video takes viewers on a tour of Minnesota to examine the interwoven relationship of people and the landscape. For use by educators, citizen groups, managers, and planners. Available for purchase at: or for loan from the MN DNR information center in St. Paul, MN
The Center For Watershed Protection
  • This Web site offers an on-line watershed quiz and a library of articles on topics such as site planning and impervious surfaces.
  • Introduction to the Eight Tools of Watershed Protection outlines a watershed protection approach that applies eight tools to protect or restore aquatic resources in a sub-watershed. It describes the nature and purpose of the eight watershed protection tools, outlines some specific techniques for applying the tools, and highlights some key choices a watershed manager should consider when applying or adapting the tools within a given sub-watershed.
Nonpoint Education for Municipal Officials (NEMO)
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