What is a watershed?

watershed is a geographical area in which all the water – from rainfall, snowmelt, garden hoses, or anything else – finds its way to a particular river, creek, or lake.

Everyone lives in a watershed. If you live in Madison, you might be in the watershed of Lake Mendota, Pheasant Branch Creek, or the Upper Sugar River.

Those water bodies, of course, drain into other water bodies. Watersheds are nested inside bigger watersheds. All the watersheds in and around Madison ultimately flow into the Mississippi River, which empties into the Gulf of Mexico.

What this means is that what we put into our water in Madison affects a lot of people who live downstream from us.

Many residents of Madison don’t know that the storm drains along our roads connect directly to our lakes and rivers. The water is not filtered or cleaned along the way. So, if we want to keep our local waterways – and the Mississippi River, and the Gulf of Mexico – clean and safe, we need to be careful about what’s flowing down our streets and driveways.

One reason that Madison sends streetsweepers around is to clean up the leaves, dirt, and other gunk that would otherwise wash down the storm drains. But doing this task with streetsweepers costs taxpayers moneys and consumes fossil fuels. If homeowners swept their curb lines manually – especially before rainstorms – we could keep our rivers and lakes clean in a way that is quieter, cheaper, and more environmentally-friendly.

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What is a watershed?

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