Resource Management

Home to Headwaters

Water Home Your Watersheds Caring for Water Make a Difference Water Community

The San Juan National Forest is home to headwaters

headwater_contdivideThe San Juan National Forest is situated right on the Continental Divide, often called the “headwaters of the nation” because all water flows either west or east from it. Water from the San Juan Mountains feeds the Animas, Dolores, La Plata, Piedra, Los Pinos and San Juan rivers that eventually carry water into the Pacific Ocean.



The San Juan National Forest is a major natural water reservoir

Snowpack is Colorado’s most important reservoir for drinking water, with the streams of the San Juan National Forest serving as the main source of drinking water for many of our towns and cities. ​The impressive San Juan Mountains capture the flow of moisture from the Pacific Ocean and convert it into piles of snow, forming a huge reservoir of water. Even though the amount of water on the planet is finite, the Water Cycle ensures that it is always moving from one place to another around the earth.  As part of the Water Cycle, surface water is cleaned and purified as it returns to the sky and then turns into rain and snow. The mountain ranges of the San Juan National Forest capture snow all winter and store it in the snowpack until it melts into rivers and streams later in the year. 




Getting to Know Your Watershed


A watershed is simply a land area that channels rainfall and snowmelt to creeks, streams, and rivers, and eventually to reservoirs, bays, and the ocean. While some watersheds are relatively small, others encompass thousands of square miles and may contain streams, rivers, lakes, reservoirs, and underlying groundwater that are hundreds of miles inland. As shown in the picture, watersheds are made up of ecosystems like forests, grasslands, streams and wetlands, each with an essential role in the water cycle.

Why are watersheds important? Watersheds are part of the natural water cycle, and a healthy, functioning watershed delivers the clean abundant water we need. Every watershed on the San Juan National Forest provides water for communities immediately downstream, even neighboring states further downstream. 

To learn more about watersheds, you can go to the US Geological Survey's website and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) website.

Our local communities benefit from water close to the top of the watershed, upstream of most pollution sources.  However, even our watersheds are subject to negative impacts from a range of sources. Find your watershed on the map below. It shows the current condition of San Juan National Forest watersheds.  Green watersheds are considered in excellent condition, yellow have stressors that diminish condition, and red are not functioning properly. Click on the map to learn more!