Mystery Solved: I Found My Watershed

We moved to our house just a little more than 8 years ago. That’s a long time to get to know a place, but I’m still amazed at how much I don’t know. I’m not proud of it, but it took me six years to have the bright idea to walk around our property (less than 3 acres) and record all of the different tree species that are present. Last night, I finally figured out our watershed.

I’ve been wondering this since about the time we moved here. Our house is on the top of a hill. But it’s not a steep-sided single hill like I would draw in my 4th grade art class: it’s more of a flat ridge that is 2 miles wide and several miles long, running southwest-northeast. There’s a lake a little more than a mile to the east of us. It’s about 300 feet lower in elevation than our house, which makes it just steep enough that I’ve never wanted to bike to the lake knowing that the pedal back up would be painful.

The hill is almost flat on top, sloped ever so slightly. Our road runs east-west and it seems like the highest point is very close to our driveway.

So for 8 years, I’ve been wondering whether the water in our driveway ditch flows east or west. Even though I tried locating my watershed using online tools, those only showed that our house fell right on the edge between the two. If it flows east, it seems like it would be a relatively simple journey to the lake, a distance of no more than a mile and a half. Then, after the lake, the water would run into the Sturgeon River and out to Lake Superior.

If the water flows west from our driveway, it would also go to the lake and then down the Sturgeon River to Lake Superior, but it would do it in a much lengthier way. It would flow west down the road ditch for a mile before hitting a small, scenic creek. From there, it would work its way 4 miles (as the crow flies) southwest before linking up with a small river. Then the small river would take the water another 2 miles south, turn and run east for 2 miles, and then turn again to go back northeast for 4 miles before entering the south end of the lake. Ultimately it would end up in the same place, but it would take a circuitous route to get there.

I solved the mystery by grinding leaves up in my hands and sprinking the dust in the ditches that are currently full of snow melt. I’ve tried to do this in the past, but I must have had the timing wrong on past attempts. The water would invariably be stagnant and not carry whatever floating thing I threw in the ditch.

This time the leaf particles moved in a clear direction—east. Our water takes the direct route to the lake, bypassing miles of shaded brook and sandy-bottomed river.

I solved this mystery, but still have another to solve: where to the west of our house is the dividing line between these two watersheds. Where does the water start to run west, and does any of our water go that direction?

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