What IS a watershed exactly?

A watershed carries water "shed" from the land after rain falls and snow melts.

Simply put it is water traveling down from vertical ridges, down through creeks and through the land into the basin below. As one scientist put it, no matter where we are, we all live in a watershed. A more specific definition from watershedatlas.org states:

"A watershed is a basin like landform defined by high points and ridgelines that descend into lower elevations and stream valleys. A watershed carries water "shed" from the land after rain falls and snow melts. Drop by drop, water is channeled into soils, groundwaters, creeks, and streams, making it's way to larger rivers and eventually the sea."

Why is this significant?

"Water is a universal solvent, affected by all that it comes in contact with: the land it traverses, and the soil through which it travels. The important thing about watersheds is: what we do on the land affects water quality for all the communities living downstream."

 The Gap 5x3"

The Gap 5x3"

The Santa Ynez River watershed begins at "the gap" or Murietta Divide, the easternmost point, and winds it's way west between two mountain ranges where it meets the sea at Surf Beach in Lompoc, the westernmost point. From the ridge of the San Rafael Mountains to the north and the ridge of the Santa Ynez Mountains lying south, marks the edges of our main water source in Santa Barbara County. Within those boundaries we have an intricate system of dams and reservoirs that help contain our water supply, as well as complicated pumping systems and tunnels that transport the water through the mountains to our urban areas.

 Santa Ynez River at Surf Beach 4x4

Santa Ynez River at Surf Beach 4x4

The Santa Ynez River itself is 92 miles long. It is one of the largest rivers on the Central Coast providing the majority of drinking and agricultural water for many of the Santa Barbara county's cities and farms.

It's easy to think it important if you are considering your very own drinking water. But the watershed is also home to myriad plants and animals that rely on it, entire eco-systems that help maintain the health of that drinking water. As stewards in a semi desert climate I am finding it more and more important to understand how our intricate system works and what I can do to see that we ensure it's viability.