This interactive, adapted from Kentucky’s Natural Heritage: An Illustrated Guide to Biodiversity, provides an original KET video clip that explains what watersheds are, and where they can be found. Students are introduced to the different waterways located in a watershed area: headwater stream, watershed divide, and river mouth. Students are also encouraged to find their homes on a map to see if they live close to a river or its tributaries.
Even though the name sounds like a building where one might store their water, a watershed is actually an area of land where surface water flows downhill and drains to a common point. It carries water “shed” from the land into rivers after it rains or snows melt. Once the water enters the river, it flows into a larger body of water such as the ocean.
All watersheds are separated from each other by something called a watershed divide. These are natural boundaries that separate one from another and direct water flow into different watersheds. These divides tend to be the highest points in the watershed like mountain ranges, hills, knobs, etc.
Since water flows downhill, watersheds begin as small streams called headwater streams in the highest points of an area and continue to flow downhill to the lower points of the watershed. They start out as small creeks and streams and join together as they roll downhill to form larger rivers. The river then flows into a larger body of water such as a lake or an ocean, where it empties at a place called the river mouth.
Watersheds play an extremely important role in our environment. The streams and rivers provide homes to many aquatic animals and various other species, and healthy watersheds minimize erosion and flooding during periods of heavy rain. Not to mention, watersheds provide all of our drinking water. Because of these reasons, it is very important to maintain healthy watershed environments.
After sharing the interactive and video, have students draw a map of their neighborhood or rural home area depicting the watershed in which they live. Provide maps and other resources that will help them with this assignment.