On Watersheds as basins

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Water flows from its sources to its sinks, or so it seemed on first watch.

The Long Valley Caldera in the Sierra Nevada Mountain's eastern slope carries snow and rain water down into the Owen's Valley.

Watershed & river basins

The US' principle watersheds and river basins.

Long Valley Caldera, a computer model:

Shown here is the watershed of the upper Owen's River as it flows (upper right to left) south into Crowley Lake, shown in the upper left.

The words of Aldo Leopold can assist anyone in understanding a watershed, such that we learn to think systematically about water and how it shapes our landscapes, their residual vegetation, wildlife, fisheries and settlements. He explained that:

“Hydrologists have demonstrated that the meanderings of a creek are a necessary part of hydrological functioning.

The flood plain belongs to the river."




The ecologist sees clearly that for similar reasons we can get along with less channel improvement on Round River.”        

Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac, pp. 188-202.

Round River as an image of connections we do not see, or feel but can imagine.

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“Round River, a river that flowed into itself ...a never ending circuit.”

Hydrological cycle


“In our educational system, the biotic continuum is seldom pictured to us as a stream . . . . we must learn more and more about the whole biotic landscape.”


“Ecology is destined to become the lore of Round River.”



“The land is one organism....the complexity of the land organism”


Round river is actually a metaphor of how landscapes within watersheds can be thought of as a never endng circuit of life dependent upon other life; hence the land organism is at once a mountain and a round river.

“a readjustment in the circulating system of the land.”

A watershed drawing.

On Watersheds and Places



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fundamental information | Places | words | Hippocrates

Watersheds are as complicated as the ecosystems that make them up or as simple as their defining features. The simple definition is that they are drainage basins, representing the basic direction that the runoff of water from the land takes on its journey to a lake, inland sea, an estuary or back into the oceans from which water comes. The defining features of any watershed are its extent in area, the size and flow rate of its derivative rivers and tributaries, their associated floodplain, climate, rainfall and snowfall patterns, slope and exposure to solar radiation.


The Wasatch Mountains drain to the Great Salt Lake on their western flanks.

In the sense of Hippocrates, the ancient Greek writer, watersheds are the confluence of airs, waters and places that were once the province of forces beyond our control that inorganically and organically created forests, wetlands, stream side ecosystems, rivers and plains where life adapted in the form of fisheries, birds, wildlife, or the underlying patterns of vegetation.

Solutions to urgent problems. water
  1. Environmental health & disease
  2. Endocrine disruption

The short term
            Water pollution

Gene flow is a river of diversity.


David Brower,  interpreting the works of J. B. S. Haldane, Ernst Mayr, Lewis Thomas, and Stephen J. Gould understood that the genetic river flowing through us is the molecular history of life on earth.

Hippocrates writes (page one) :


In the same manner, when one comes into a city to which he is a stranger, he ought to consider its situation, how it lies as to the winds and the rising of the sun; for its influence is not the same whether it lies to the north or the south, to the rising or to the setting sun. These things one ought to consider most attentively, and concerning the waters which the inhabitants use, whether they be marshy and soft, or hard, and running from elevated and rocky situations, and then if saltish and unfit for cooking; and the ground, whether it be naked and deficient in water, or wooded and well watered, and whether it lies in a hollow, confined situation, or is elevated and cold; and the mode in which the inhabitants live, and what are their pursuits, whether they are fond of drinking and eating to excess, and given to indolence, or are fond of exercise and labor, and not given to excess in eating and drinking.

2. From these things he must proceed to investigate everything else. For if one knows all these things well, or at least the greater part of them, he cannot miss knowing, when he comes into a strange city, either the diseases peculiar to the place, or the particular nature of common diseases, so that he will not be in doubt as to the treatment of the diseases, or commit mistakes, as is likely to be the case provided one had not previously considered these matters.


Thales -- water is the original element from which all things descended.


Original Sources on nature

water & air in the concept of Weal

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Watersheds are a convenient means of seeing connections among living things and their surroundings in such a way that the linkage of land, air, and water can also be understood functionally as sources of wealth in that water, air, energy and land form the core of the watershed's inorganic conditions that sustain life and civilizations.




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Last Updated on July 19, 2011 from August 14, 2008 .