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U.S. Forest Service
Caring for the land and serving people

United States Department of Agriculture


What is a Watershed?

Topographic image showing a section of counties in the United States A watershed is the drainage area of a landscape where water from rain or melting snow and ice drains downhill into a body of water such as a river, lake, reservoir, pond, estuary, wetland, aquifer, sea, or ocean. Watersheds include the streams, lakes, and shallow aquifers that store and convey the water as well as the land surfaces from which water drains and the aquatic ecosystems that they support. Topography and geology determine where the water flows, and thus are used to separate adjacent drainage basins into a hierarchical structure in which small watersheds drain into progressively larger ones.


Water is one of the most important natural resources flowing from forests. The Forest Service manages the largest single source of water in the U.S. with about 18% originating from 193 million acres of land. A network of water and watershed resource specialists support stewardship efforts at all levels of the organization to promote healthy, sustainable watersheds fundamental to ecosystems and people.

Forest Service 'Watershed' includes the areas of Watershed Restoration, Water Rights, Water Quality, Hydrology, Ground Water, Riparian, and Wetlands.

Each watershed area has a program leader assisting field scientists in attaining the Chief's watershed priorities and managing resources from a healthy ecosystem perspective.

The Forest Service Washington Office (WO) Watershed Team leads core Agency programs in Watershed Restoration, Water Rights & Uses, Surface Water, Groundwater, and Riparian & Wetlands. The broader Watershed Team includes fisheries biologists, aquatic ecologists, geologists, and soil scientists who lead complimentary programs within the staff group. Program leaders support regional and field scientists and managers as well as line officers with technical guidance to conserve, protect, and restore the soil, riparian, water and aquatic resources of the national forests and grasslands.