What is a Watershed?

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A Watershed is the area of land which contributes to the water supply of a river. The Kuskokwim River Watershed is the land that drains to the Kuskokwim River and it's tributaries. Whatever pollutes the air and the land, will pollute the river. Protecting the land and water is the best way to protect the river and the life that depends upon it. 

- Kuskokwim River Watershed Council


The Kuskokwim River is the second largest river in Alaska, draining an area approximately 50,200 square miles which represents 11% of the total area of Alaska.  

kuskokwim_map

Source: KRWC


Think of a watershed as an area “shedding” water into a specific river, lake or wetland.  In our case, it would be the whole area of land shedding water into the Kuskokwim River.  

The land that catches this water supports a drainage system that channels the water and substances it carries to a common outlet, or mouth of a river.  The mouth of the Kuskokwim is where the water flows into the Kuskokwim Bay, shown on the map above.  At the opposite end is where the water entering into the watershed originates, and is oftentimes referred to as the “headwaters”.  

Watershed teaching is a great time to talk about the water cycle too.  

teaching tool

Check out this awesome interactive game for teaching all different grade levels about the water cycle.

Our region is found in the middle reaches of the Kuskowim, between the headwaters and the mouth.  Typically in the middle reaches, and as is the case here, the river is bigger and deeper than at the headwaters, since by now some tributaries have entered the river and added water to the flow. 

It is both that land that carries the water and the water system itself that are connected in a watershed-but something else is equally important in this relationship - the connection to the people. 

In the Kuskowim region, the River is a central point for all who live here.  Transportation, food security, the identity of the people …these things are all dependent on the health of the River.  

Take a look at Video 1 in the Water Video Series that documents people’s connection to the Kuskokwim River.

Since a watershed is one interconnected land and water system, any action taken in one area of a watershed can affect what happens in distant areas of that same system. 

If one part of a watershed fails to function, the entire watershed is impacted.  Ways this failure can begin include: excess sediment or salt, loss of riparian areas, channelization or straightening, blockage of fish passage, and loss of water quality or quantity. 

Learn about ways our watershed can become polluted