What Is a Watershed?


(Conservation Currents, Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District)

No matter where you live, you live in a watershed. A watershed is the land area that drains to a single body of water such as a stream, lake, wetland, or underground aquifer. Watersheds come in many different sizes: a few acres might drain into a small stream or wetland; a few large rivers might drain into an estuary, such as the Chesapeake Bay, where fresh water and salt water mix. The actions of people who live in a watershed affect the health of the waters that drain through it. Whenever rain falls or snow melts, chemicals, fertilizers, sediment, and other pollutants from the land are washed into lakes, streams, wetlands, and rivers.

How can you make a difference?

  • Conserve water every day by taking shorter showers, fixing leaks, and turning off the water while brushing your teeth.
  • Don’t pour toxic household chemicals down the drain. Take them to the I-66 Transfer Station in Fairfax (4618 West Ox Road) or the I-95 Landfill in Lorton (9850 Furnace Road).
  • Use hardy plants in your yard that require little or no watering, fertilizers, or pesticides.
  • Test your soil before applying fertilizer because it might not need it!
  • Recycle your yard waste in a compost pile and leave grass clippings on the lawn.
  • Use surfaces like wood, brick, and gravel for decks, patios, and walkways. They allow rain to soak in, not run off.
  • Never pour used oil or antifreeze into the storm drain or the street. Recycle them at your local service station.
  • Pick up after your dog (or cat) and dispose of the waste in the toilet or the trash.
  • Drive less. Walk or bike instead.
  • Adopt your watershed! Call the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District at 703-324-1460, TTY 711 for advice on starting a local watershed group, monitoring your neighborhood stream, or marking storm drains.

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