Our Missouri Waters Initiative - Watersheds
A watershed is an area of land that drains water into a particular lake, river or wetland. A group of watersheds that drain into a major water body is often referred to as a basin. For instance, all of the land that drains water into the Missouri River from Three Forks, Montana, to St. Louis, Missouri, is referred to as the Missouri River Basin. Watersheds can be divided into smaller watersheds such as an area surrounding a specific small creek or stream.
What are the benefits of a healthy watershed?
The benefits of healthy watersheds are numerous. Healthy watersheds provide sufficient amounts of clean water required for safe drinking water, aquatic organisms and wildlife, and recreation. Healthy watersheds help reduce vulnerability to impacts of climate and land use change. Healthy watersheds provide many economic benefits such as reducing costs for supplying and treating water for human consumption and industrial uses, increasing tourism by providing desirable places to fish, swim and boat, increasing property values, and mitigating damage caused by floods. For example, by protecting aquifer recharge zones and the watersheds of surface water sources, costs of drinking water treatment can be reduced.
Why is my watershed important?
Watersheds provide water for drinking, irrigation and industrial processes. Watersheds are the keys to stream health. Keeping our watersheds healthy is important because many people also enjoy and use our lakes and streams for their beauty, boating, fishing and swimming. Wildlife also need healthy watersheds for food and shelter. The condition of a watershed directly affects the quality and quantity of water in a lake, river, stream or wetland.
How can I protect my watershed?
Get to know your watershed. By becoming familiar with the activities in your watershed, you can better understand water resource problems that need specific attention. Attend public meetings or hearings to address water resource problems. Join a volunteer water quality monitoring team, Stream Team or form your own Stream Team to learn how watersheds work, how to care for them and even how to monitor water quality. Visit the Stream Team website. Vote to support bond issues to raise money to build or upgrade your local wastewater treatment plants. Facilities that are overloaded or malfunctioning can discharge bacteria and other pollutants into nearby waters.
What are the simple steps I may take at home to help make a difference now?
Implement best management practices where possible:
- Plant a buffer zone of vegetation along a stream on your property to slow down stormwater runoff and allow it to soak into the ground before it reaches the stream. Avoid farming or building right next to the edge of a stream.
- Test your soil and complete pest scouting so that fertilizer and pesticide applications can be more accurately applied.
- Plant native species on your property to enhance beauty, create habitat for wildlife and reduce the need for water, fertilizers and pesticides.
- Keep your automobile maintained to reduce the amount of oil, grease and other lubricants leaking onto roads and driveways.
- Dispose of used oil and household chemicals properly. Do not dump oil or hazardous chemicals onto the ground.
- Do not flush medicines down the toilet. These pharmaceuticals can enter downstream waters. Properly dispose of your expired or unused pharmaceuticals at area drop-off events.
- Incorporate erosion control measures such as silt fences around construction sites.
- Install best management practices on your farm that are designed to reduce soil erosion and runoff of fertilizers and pesticides from your property. Maintain filter strips on the edges of your fields, plant cover crops, conduct soil tests, and mix your chemicals away from wells. Ask your county extension agent about rotational grazing, a practice that prevents erosion and unnecessary reseeding, provides cleaner water for livestock and protects nearby streams and creeks.
- Do not dump anything down a storm drain. Storm drains can discharge directly to a local stream or lake.
- Cover exposed soil in your garden or landscaped areas with mulch or hay to prevent soil erosion.
- Construct a rain garden in your yard.
- Support developers who include rain gardens, stormwater retention basins and green space in their development plans.
- Keep your septic tank properly maintained by having it pumped every 2 to 3 years.
What’s a HUC-8? - The Hydrologic Unit Code, or HUC, system is a way to classify watersheds by size. This is a national system used to communicate the size and relationship of natural stream systems. Every hydrologic unit (a watershed or part of a watershed) is identified by a unique HUC, a number containing two to 12 digits. The bigger the HUC number, the smaller the watershed.