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About Watersheds
» What is a Watershed?
» Alberta's River Basins
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» Glossary

What is a Watershed?


A watershed, or drainage basin, is the area of land that drains precipitation into a body of water such as a pond, stream, river or lake. Think of how a puddle is formed. Water from higher areas drains into lower land around it. The land draining precipitation into the puddle is the watershed. Wetlands, ponds, lakes and rivers are low points of land formed by water draining into them.

Albertans depend on healthy watersheds to provide good quality water for drinking, irrigation, industrial uses and recreation. A healthy watershed also provides food, shelter and water for wildlife, livestock, plants and fish.

As water travels over land it can pick up particles and chemicals and carry them into a water body.

Water quality is a direct result of both human activities and natural processes such as heavy rains and spring break-up when ice and snow melt.

In urban areas, fertilizers and pesticides can be washed off lawns and gardens, pollutants from leaky vehicles can be swept from roadways, and industrial chemicals can be flushed away from factory yards.

In rural areas, water quality is affected by soil erosion from logging activities, run-off from oil and gas sites, and run-off from agricultural sites that may contain livestock manure, pesticides and fertilizers.

The effects these human and natural processes have on our watershed are far-reaching -- influencing our health, culture, environment and economy.


Animated Water Cycle


Click the image to begin.