No matter where you are standing in the world,
you are always in a watershed.

WHAT IS a watershed ANYWAY?

A watershed is the area of land that drains to the same point, such as a stream, lake, wetland, or ocean. Water always flows downhill. The stream next to your house is flowing down to meet another stream, and that stream flows into another stream until all the water in our region ends up in one of the 3 Rivers. Watershed boundaries are made by hills and ridges. Think of a watershed like a funnel: if it were to rain or snow into a funnel, the water would stay within the borders of the funnel. Watersheds can be as large as the ocean or as small as a footprint.


The watersheds in our region can change from a beautiful woodland setting to a stream that is located in an urban area surrounded by concrete and buildings. Each is different: a watershed in an agricultural area may have nutrient pollution issues, a watershed with old coal mines may have acid or aluminum issues, a watershed in a heavily populated area may have stormwater issues. By understanding what the problems are in a watershed, we can improve our streams and the 3 Rivers, where all of our water ends up. 


Think about the image of the Point in Pittsburgh, the place where the Allegheny River and the Monongahela River come together to form the Ohio River. Do you live in Allegheny County? The streams where you live eventually make their way to the Ohio River. All of the streams in Allegheny County, some streams in neighboring counties, and the Youghiogheny, Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio Rivers make up the Ohio River Watershed. 

Where does the Ohio River flow to? The Mississippi River. Where does the Mississippi River flow to? The Gulf of Mexico.

This means that the water in the streams in your neighborhood eventually ends up in Mexico. Pretty wild. Our actions are far reaching! 

Home to 10 percent of the U.S. population, the Ohio River Watershed is the most polluted in the country.

what happens upstream affects water downstream

For our region's water resources to improve, it's important that we all understand that damage caused in one area doesn't stay there. That's the way of the watershed: everything is connected. This means that when neighbors are over- fertilizing their lawns, pollution moves downstream, or when a woodland is made into a new business, all of the runoff moves downstream. 


Where does your water come from? Streams and rivers. Water treatment plants in your community take water from streams, reservoirs, and rivers to provide drinking water and water to meet all of our household needs. The water that comes out of our faucets begins as rainfall or snow that makes its way to the place that your water is drawn from. This means that your everyday actions-- how you fertilize your lawn, cleaning up after your dog, the amount of paved surfaces on your property-- all contribute to the quality of the water coming out of your faucet. 

You can help spread the message about water pollution as both a person who uses water every day and as a watershed group member. Your group can provide educational materials, host rain barrel workshops, find money for stream improvement projects and putting in rain gardens in neighborhoods and businesses, and plant trees. 

Money talks. Did you know that if water is cleaner when it enters treatment plants it's less expensive to treat? If everyone understood how their actions affected drinking water quality and changed behaviors, our drinking water would be healthier and cheaper. You don't have to be an environmentalist to care about streams and rivers. It's in your best interest to care because of your health and your wallet. 


RECREATIONISTS and fisherman

Boating, canoeing, kayaking, and paddle boarding are all more fun in polluted water, right? Spending time outdoors with family and friends starts with a clean and safe environment. Pollutants from miles upstream can find their way into the waters of  the cleanest quality. This means what happens upstream affects conditions downstream. Recreation areas with good water quality means paying attention to more than just the stream or river you play in.

A fisherman knows what's needed for healthy fish communities: clean water. Prized fish do not live in dirty water. As a fisherman or boater, you can help improve our streams and rivers for more fish to join the ranks. You can keep an eye on harmful activities like illegal dumping, industrial pollution, or failing streambanks. 


Fish, birds, salamanders, bugs: everything depends on having clean water, trees and shrubs. Did you learn about the food web in school? Having lots of birds and fish around starts with something for them to eat. Healthy water provides the necessary conditions for bugs to live in streams. Once the bugs are there, along with trees and shrubs to provide spaces to live, birds, fish, and other creatures will follow.

Your actions and the actions of everyone on your street can harm or help fish and wildlife populations in your area. Fish and the critters that feed fish depend on good water quality. What do they need? Stable streambanks with trees and plants, areas free of litter, and water without pollutants from lawn fertilizers, dog poop, and stormwater. People harm fish and critter habitat by over-fertilizing their lawns, not cleaning up dog waste, removing streamside plantings, littering, and contributing to stormwater runoff. 



Watershed groups work throughout the region to monitor, improve, and protect waterways and  bordering lands. In doing so, groups create an environment where water quality can improve and be enjoyed.