We’re reporting on watersheds… but what is a watershed?

A watershed is an area of land that catches rain and snow and drains or seeps into a marsh, stream, river, lake or groundwater. Homes, farms, cottages, forests, small towns, big cities and more can make up watersheds. Some cross municipal, provincial and even international borders.

Watersheds come in all shapes and sizes and can vary from millions of acres, like the land that drains into the Great lakes, to a few acres that drain into a pond.

Ontario is located in part of the Great Lakes / St. Lawrence River watershed (or basin). Click here to see where your Conservation Authority is located.

Why do we need healthy watersheds?

Our economy and even our own well-being, rely on healthy watersheds. The lakes, rivers, forests, wetlands, fish, insects, wildlife and other biodiversity that make up our watersheds provide multiple benefits including:

  • safe drinking water,
  • food security,
  • lower risk of flooding and erosion,
  • reduced temperatures / fewer greenhouse gas emissions, and
  • healthy green spaces for people to use in order to keep active and recharge our emotional batteries.
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Human Health

A healthy watershed provides safe drinking water and health soils for food production. Green infrastructure such as forests, grasslands, wetlands and other plants helps us to adapt to the impacts of climate change more easily by cooling the air and absorbing greenhouse gas emissions. Natural areas such as conservation areas that are found throughout our watersheds provide lots of recreational for people to keep active and improve mental health.

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Ecological Health

A healthy watershed conserves water, improves air quality, promotes streamflow, supports sustainable streams, rivers, lakes, and groundwater sources and also provides important habitat for insects (pollinators), wildlife and plants.

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Economic Health

A healthy watershed provides numerous natural assets that support our economy. Sustainable water sources are needed for agriculture, industry and household uses. Forests, wetlands and other green infrastructure help to reduce the costly risk of flooding and erosion events as well as directly support fisheries, forestry, agriculture and tourism. The Great Lakes themselves provide transportation, recreation and manufacturing goods and services, contributing billions to Ontario’s economy and a drinking water source for eight million people. They provide raw power and cooling water for the province’s energy supply as well.

Overall, the healthier our watersheds are, the better to build Ontario’s resilience against growing climate change impacts.

Benefits of Nature Infographic

conservation ontario benefits of nature infographic Download PDF