Watershed | wa•ter•shed | noun

The region or area drained by a river, stream, etc.; drainage area.
Dictionary.com, n.d.

Generally speaking, a watershed is an area of land consisting of a network of streams, rivers and lakes that drains to a single point. This point can be where a river meets the ocean, or where a large river meets an even larger river. The term watershed is also interchangeable with “drainage basin” or “catchment basin/area”.

Watersheds are separated by drainage divides or high points along the landscape that result in water flowing towards different streams and rivers. For example, one of the most commonly recognized drainage divides is the Continental Divide. Watersheds are ‘fed’ water by rainfall, snowmelt and other types of runoff. This runoff then collects into streamflows that create streams and rivers within the watershed. Each watershed is defined by characteristics such as landforms (valleys vs. plains), streambed material (rock vs. sand) and steepness (slope) of the streambed. These characteristics change throughout the watershed and they influence the behavior of the stream or river.

You can identify the specific characteristics of the stream through your property by using the ‘Stream Classification Guide’ in Chapter 2.

The four adjacent watersheds being evaluated in this Handbook are along the Front Range of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. These watersheds are the Lefthand, St. Vrain, Little Thompson and Big Thompson watersheds and they share many similar characteristics. All four of these watersheds have headwaters high in the mountains. In this portion of the watersheds, the streams and rivers have carved deep valleys into the mountains. Typically, the rivers and streams in these valleys have a steep slope and the water moves quickly over the rocky terrain. These rocks are usually sharp and angular rather than rounded and bedrock is often seen at or near the ground surface.

As the water moves downstream through the foothills, the streams and valleys widen out into larger open channels along the eastern plains. These lower areas of the watershed are usually defined by streams with more gradual slopes that meander within wide floodplains. The moving water carries rocks, sand and sediment with it. The rocks become rounded and smaller from being moved by the water and are eventually deposited as sediment throughout these areas.

What does a watershed
look like in Colorado?

Comprehending these basics of how the watershed works, as well as identifying your place within the larger watershed, is critical to understanding the processes that shape your riverfront property. This knowledge will also help you to develop plans to properly maintain and restore the stream corridor. As an owner of a riverfront property, you have a unique opportunity to improve the health of your land and enhance the value of your property through sound stewardship practices. Being a good stream steward not only provides your property with ecological, health and economic benefits, but your upstream and downstream neighbors as well. These watershed-wide benefits also include the improvement of water quality, wildlife habitat connectivity and flood resiliency.