By Frank Waksmunski
The Times News, © 2004

March 20, 2004

What is a watershed? Do you live in one? Does it have a name? How big is it?

If you don’t know the answers to these questions, don’t worry. Most people don’t.

You might ask, “What difference does it make?” or “I’m on a municipal water system so who cares?”

These are valid questions, and I will try to answer them. We are all connected if we live in the same watershed because we all share the same water, and we all live downhill.

If you have municipal water, you’re still in the watershed. What you do in your backyard can affect you and your friends because our water affects how we work, play, fish, boat, hunt, grow flowers and vegetables. Not only do we drink the same water, it impacts all that we do.

We are in a watershed, whether we can see water or not. Watersheds can be big or small. Our own backyard is a watershed for a well: our own, our next-door neighbor or someone miles away.

John Wesley Powell, scientist geographer, put it best when he said that a watershed is: “that area of land, a bounded hydrologic system, within which all living things are inextricably linked by their common water course and where, as humans settled, simple logic demanded that they become part of a community.”

Simply put, a watershed is a land area that drains water away to a common place. The water comes from rain and snow. It can remain on the surface and drain away. It can soak into the ground and drain away.

Water is constantly on the move, whether it’s in our creeks and rivers, or underground in our aquifers. It can travel miles a day or inches a year. Water always runs downhill, following the path of least resistance.

Groundwater can run in the opposite direction of surface water, due to the geology and fractures in the rock formations below our feet. We can see where surface water goes, but, in most cases, we have no idea where groundwater flows.

The United States can be divided into two large watersheds. The Continental Divide, also known as the Great Divide, is a line that runs along the crest of the Rocky Mountains. To the east, all water drains into the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico. To the west, water heads for the Pacific Ocean.

The United States Geological Survey divided the nation into 21 major Watershed Regions. These regions are further divided into 222 sub-regions, 352 hydrologic accounting units and 2150 cataloging Units. Each has a distinctive 8-digit number to identify it.

Most of Carbon County is in one watershed, but there are two others. We are all in Region 02-Mid Atlantic. This region stretches from Canada through parts of New York, Vermont, New Jersey, Eastern Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia, including the Chesapeake Bay.

Region 2 is further divided into sub-region 0204-Delaware, hydrologic accounting unit 020401-Upper Delaware and finally Cataloging Unit 02040106-Lehigh. Most of us live in the Lehigh Watershed.

The northwestern tip of the county is in the Upper Susquehanna-Lackawanna Watershed-02050107 and small sections along the border with Schuylkill County are in the Schuylkill Watershed-02040203.

If you forget most of what you read here, the important thing to remember is WE ALL LIVE IN A WATERSHED and WE ALL LIVE DOWNHILL!