A watershed is an area of land that drains to a river, lake, or ocean. Hills organize the land into different watersheds. When rainwater hits the ground, mountain and hill ridges channel runoff water and groundwater (water that has soaked into the ground) into water bodies, such as streams and rivers. Because all runoff and groundwater will eventually flow somewhere, every land surface is part of a watershed. As water flows over land surfaces it picks up particles, nutrients and pollution that drain with the water into rivers, lakes or oceans. Watershed science is therefore an important part of remedying problems, such as pollution, that may affect a particular body of water.
Massachusetts has 28 distinct watersheds that feed six larger river basins. A river basin includes all the land drained by a river and its tributaries. The Connecticut River drains nearly one third of the state - the land between the peaks of the Berkshires and the Worcester Plateau. The Housatonic River and its tributaries drain most of the land west of the Berkshires. East of the Worcester Plateau, watersheds feed the Charles River, the Merrimack River, and many smaller rivers that ultimately make their way to the coast.
Watersheds do not conform to political boundaries, so often it does not make sense to focus on a portion of a river that lies within a particular city or county. Managing a watershed as a whole achieves better conservation strategies that work with the natural layout of the land. Cooperation increases the ability of organizations to effectively handle watershed problems, which in turn leads to better economic and scientific management of the river and its watershed. CRWA strives to protect the Charles River by promoting this cooperation between diverse organizations, communities and levels of government.
Everyone has a watershed address. Find out which watershed you live in by visiting the EPA's Surf Your Watershed site.