What is a Watershed?

A watershed begins at the ridgelines, the highest elevation points on the landscape, and includes the entire
basin within those lowpoints. When rain falls on the land, it flows downhill into watercourses (streams,
rivers, lakes, oceans) in the low-points. A “watershed” is the entire land area that collects water flowing
into a watercourse. Larger watersheds contain sub-basins, as shown on this map.

The Watershed Game from Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center is a great resource for understanding the many different features that make up a watershed.

Why do you define your home by your watershed?

Water is life. Many indigenous peoples traditionally define their territorial boundaries in relationship with watersheds. When you are taking care of water, you can come to know a “felt sense” of its relationships within specific watersheds. Traditional communal land management does not divide up land into “properties” or “plots.” Rather, the entire human community (with commitments to each other) relates to an entire ecosystem (commitments to a place and the more-than-human community of that place). Watersheds are ecosystems united by their shared water. What we do within the watershed impacts the entire watershed and all ki’s relationships.