Ah! The spring thaw is finally here! When snow melts in the spring, I can’t help but wonder if it’s at all like when the glaciers receded 10,000 years ago. Probably not, but I still really like the idea after 6 months of snow.

So where does all the springtime water go?

In short: into the air, into the ground, or across the land. For the water that moves across the land, if it doesn’t evaporate to the air or infiltrate into the ground, it will eventually join up with greater and greater amounts of water. And that makes up a watershed– all the water that flows into a single stream or river or lake or other waterbody.

Have you thought about where the water goes from where you live?

If a drop of water landed outside of your home and worked its way all the way to the ocean, what path would it take?

Imagine that you are a drop of water that fell from a rain cloud and landed on the ground very near to where you currently sit. And you’re a special raindrop (of course you are!) that’s going to make it all the way to the ocean. How would you get there? 

If you don’t know, here are two websites to help you find out:

1) Streamer

The National Atlas Streamer application claims to allow you to click on a location and follow the water downstream. It will trace much of the route that you, the special raindrop, would take  on your journey to the ocean (or Great Lake– it’s up to you to go from there!). It’s a quick, easy to use application (although a bit clunky) and the map is simple and easy to read. The main drawback is that it only outlines water flow downstream from the nearest mapped/named tributary, so it doesn’t help you find out how the water would flow from your present location to the nearest substantial waterbody.

That is, unless you’re reading this from a boat. I really hope that you’re reading this from a boat!

Streamer interface.
Streamer interface. Just click to find your way to the ocean.


EPA’s MyWATERS Mapper seems like the inverse of the Streamer application. It has a lot more functionality, such as topo maps, new aerial imagery, and a bunch of other data from EPA databases (for all you nerds out there!). The strength of this tool is that you can use it to get a much better idea of how water moves in your neighborhood.

Do if yourself: To see your watershed, select the ‘Other EPA Water Data’ dropdown in the left panel, and select ‘Watershed Boundaries’ and click on your location to identify the watershed. You can also click to show ‘Rivers and Streams’ and trace the water downstream as far as you’d like.

MyWATERS interface. Zoom in for crazy detail.
MyWATERS interface. Zoom in for crazy detail.

One more (silly) thought

And because I like love maps, I couldn’t help but share this as well. Imagine that you and all your neighbor raindrops decided to form communities based around your watershed. And then those became states. This is what that might look like:

Imagine if our states were defined by watersheds. From http://communitybuilders.net/the-united-watershed-states-of-america/.
Imagine if our states were defined by watersheds. Map by Community Builders.

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