Exploring Watersheds


As we paddled to Brule Lake, we traveled through small lakes and streams. We portaged around places where the streams formed rapids. Dave and I began to think about water and where it flows. This week’s Notes from the Trail is all about watersheds.

A watershed is the area of land where its water drains into a common place. Rivers, tributaries, wetlands, ponds and lakes all are features of watersheds. Mountains, grasslands, deserts and forests are also important features of a watershed. A watershed acts like a funnel that helps to transport water to the sea. Watersheds come in all shapes and sizes, they cross county, state and national boundaries.

Water is always moving downhill. Due to gravity, water always finds the lowest spot on a surface and collects there, just like puddles form when it rains. If rain falls anywhere in the watershed, it will flow downhill until it reaches a stream, river, pond or other type of water body. Generally watersheds are named for the major rivers that carry the fresh water to the sea.

When it rains where you live, where does the water flow?

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The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is actually at the top of two watersheds. We have passed over the the Laurentian Divide, several times. The Laurentian Divide is a continental divide. Rain that falls on the north side of the Laurentian Divide is in the Rainy River Watershed, which eventually makes its way north to Hudson Bay and the Arctic Ocean. Rain that falls on the south side of the Laurentian Divide flows towards Lake Superior and the Great Lakes Watershed, making its way east into the Atlantic Ocean. The state of Minnesota is at the top of three major watersheds. The third watershed is the Mississippi watershed, flowing into the Gulf of Mexico.

What watershed are you in? What are some major lakes, rivers or bodies of water near where you live?

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Brule Lake, where we are right now is south of the Laurentian Divide. Several small streams flow into Brule Lake. Water flows out of Brule Lake in two different places. The water that flows out of the lake to the west eventually forms the Temperance River. The water that flows out of Brule Lake to the east forms the Brule River. The Temperance and Brule Rivers flow into Lake Superior.

In the natural world, water is an incredibly important element. Water is the basis for all life. With over 70% of the earth being covered in water, water seems like a resource that is dependable and ever-present. However, for humans there is a limited amount of usable water. Think about how much of the water is salt water in the oceans. Since fresh water is such an important resource, it is helpful to recognize it in its various forms and how water shapes our lives and our natural environment.


How do you use water on a daily basis?

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In order to ensure safe drinking water and successful habitats for animals and plants, watersheds need to be healthy and clean. Since water travels such great distances, it is important to remember that pollution is often carried those distances as well.

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