What's a Watershed?

WatershedWhen your hear the word watershed you might suspect that it is a small building that stores water. Actually, a watershed is the area of land where all of the water that falls onto that land drains, or “sheds” into a waterbody like a stream, river, lake, pond or wetland. Dogs and cats shed their fur, snakes shed their skin, and trees shed their leaves. In a watershed, the land sheds water.

Every waterbody has a watershed and every piece of land is part of a watershed. Therefore you live in a watershed. In fact, everyone lives in a watershed.


Land is very important to the water cycle. When water travels over land, gravity causes the water to move downhill. Watersheds are defined by the shape of the land (topography). The edges of a watershed, or the watershed boundaries, are found at higher elevations like ridgelines and mountain tops. The waterbody (lake, river, stream, etc.) of the watershed is found at lower elevations, often where the land flattens out.


So imagine that a watershed is like a giant bathtub, where the drain is the river, lake, or stream. The high sides, or edges, of the bathtub are like a watershed boundary (the tops of mountains and hills) and any water that falls inside the tub (watershed) will eventually go down the drain (river) carrying dirt and soap with it. Any water that falls outside of the tub will fall into another watershed and drain into a different waterbody.

Why are watersheds so important?

We need water to survive. We don't just drink water; we are water. Water makes up approximately 70% of our weight and in other living organisms makes up approximately 50-90% of their weight. It is one of the most abundant and important substances on Earth. Water sustains plant and animal life, plays a key role in the formation of weather, and helps to shape the surface of the planet through erosion and other processes. By protecting the watershed we protect our water.

There are so many important reasons to protect our watersheds!

  • A healthy watershed protects the limited freshwater we have to ensure we have clean and safe drinking water.
  • watershedgirlfishing2Streams, rivers, and lakes can provide us with many fun outdoor opportunities liking swimming, fishing, and boating.

  • Streams and wetlands can also filter out pollutants that have been washed off developed land, preventing them from entering downstream waters. To learn more about pollutants, visit our Pollution page.

  • Healthy watersheds slow runoff during times of heavy rain minimizing downstream erosion and flooding.

  • Streams, rivers, lakes, ponds, and wetlands also provide essential habitat for fish, reptiles, and amphibians and also play an important role in the life cycles of many insects, mammals and birds. To read more about these animals visit our Stream Life page.


Watersheds in Dutchess County

There are six main watersheds in Dutchess County. Click on each to learn more!


Hudson Direct Drainage


Wappinger Creek


Fishkill Creek


Tenmile River


Roeliff Jansen Kill


Croton Watershed

Our watersheds are home to many interesting animals.


Click Here to learn more about Stream Life!




  • Riverkeeper Presentation: Crude Oil Transportation in the Hudson Valley

    April 2nd

    Date: April 2, 2015: 5:30PM to 7:00PM
    Location: Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, Room TBA

    Join Riverkeeper’s Jeremy Cherson, Riverkeeper Fellow for a presentation about the risks of crude oil transportation in the Hudson Valley on April 2, 2015. This presentation is made possible by our sponsors the Casperkill Watershed Alliance and Vassar College Sustainability - See more at: http://www.riverkeeper.org/news-events/events/rvk-events/vassar-college-crude-oil-transportation-presentation/#sthash.lchhqX4M.dpuf