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Watershed Management

Watersheds are the areas through which water flows on its way to a common body such as a stream, river, lake, or aquifer. These natural systems exist in many different sizes, from small ponds to the nearly 7000-kilometer-long Nile River Basin.

Watershed management begins with determining how water moves within it and estimating the full extent of the natural and human factors that impact this movement and the amounts of water that can be provided by the watershed.

Humans often “manage” watersheds in accidental fashion. Roads, parking lots and other paved sites increase runoff volume and peak flow and shorten the duration of water runoff. The removal of plants and trees can increase erosion and boost volumes of runoff water.

Many watershed management programs focus on protecting the quantity and quality of source waters. Preserving topsoil and vegetation helps to prevent erosion and other water loss events and provides natural water purification. Terraced farming, common in South-east Asia, is one example of how watershed management has been used for many centuries to reduce water losses and to stop erosion.

Water harvesting efforts use catchment basins, dam structures, and other diversionary architecture to collect precipitation and runoff and to store water for future use. Water storage may also allow more water to return underground and restock groundwater resources, either naturally or though managed processes of artificial recharge.

These efforts allow watershed managers to mitigate seasonal variation in rainfall.

Other watershed management plans may be centered on influencing human activity. Through incentives and prohibitions, watershed managers may dictate land use plans and zoning priorities to ensure minimal adverse impacts on the natural watershed cycle—or to augment that cycle in order to maximize available drinking water resources.

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