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A watershed is an area of land that drains to a common location such as a lake or river. As rainwater and melting snow run downhill, they gather sediment and other materials and may carry them into our streams, lakes and groundwater.

From an aerial view, watersheds have the appearance of a large tree with branches extending across the landscape. The largest or principle stream of the watershed is the tree's trunk, while the larger branches are primary streams, the smaller branches are secondary streams all feeding into each other as they make their journey through the watershed.

Did you know you're in a watershed right now?

We all live in a watershed. Homes, farms, forests, small towns, big cities and more make up watersheds. Watersheds cross municipal, county, state and even international borders. Sometimes watersheds are called drainage basins.

Watersheds come in all shapes and sizes. Some encompass millions of square miles; others just a few acres. Just as creeks drain into rivers, watersheds are nearly always part of a larger watershed in extent. For example, Ohio is covered by 44 "principle" watersheds, but all of them drain to either Lake Erie or the Ohio River.

Why is your watershed important?

Watersheds are the places we call home, where we work and play. Everyone relies on water and other natural resources to exist.

Healthy watersheds are vital for a healthy environment and economy. We use water for drinking, agriculture and industry.

Many people also enjoy lakes and streams for their beauty and for recreation. Wildlife also needs healthy watersheds for food and shelter.

You impact your watershed daily

The first step in protecting your watershed is to understand how you might contribute to the problem. You may be negatively impacting your watershed if you:

*Over water lawns and landscaping

*Over apply pesticides and fertilizers

*Dispose of motor oil and household chemicals down the storm drains;

*Let your car wash water flow into storm drains; or

*Leave pet waste behind.

You can make a difference!

Be a Conservation Crusader today and follow these easy tips to protect the health of your watershed whether you live or work in the city, suburbs or rural areas:

*Fertilize according to soil test results. Contact your local OSU Extension service agent for instructions. Try to apply fertilizer when heavy rain isn't likely to wash it away.

*Recycle grass clippings and leaves by mulching or composting. If you can't compost, collect and dispose according to local provisions.

*Take used oil to a recycling station. Check with your local service stations for help. Never dump oil into a storm drain.

*Home septic tanks should by located, constructed and installed according to regulations. Regular pumping, maintenance and prompt correction of problems are important.

*Direct roof runoff onto a grassed area. Roof drains should not be connected to a sanitary or storm sewer system.

*Use porous surfaces such as flagstone, gravel, stone and interlocking pavers rather than impervious concrete and asphalt.

*Keep litter, pet wastes, leaves, and debris out of street gutters and storm drains since these outlets drain directly into your local lakes, rivers, streams, and wetlands.

*Apply lawn and garden chemicals sparingly and according to directions.

*Dispose of used antifreeze, paints, and other household chemicals properly, not in storm sewers or drains. If your community does not already have a program for collecting household hazardous wastes, ask your local government to establish one.

*Require proper logging and erosion control practices on your forest lands by ensuring proper construction, maintenance, and closure of logging roads and skid trails.

*Manage livestock waste to minimize contamination of surface and ground waters and consider using planned grazing systems on pasture and rangeland.

For more information on how you can help protect your watershed, contact your local county soil and water conservation district.

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