The Watershed

Huron River at Island Lake State Park

Huron River at Island Lake State Park

What is a Watershed?

A watershed – also called a drainage basin or catchment – is the area of surrounding land that drains into a river or creek.  A watershed embodies all the life-sustaining connections and interconnections that provide us with clean, useable water.  First among these is the fundamental and inseparable connection between water and land.

A watershed can be as small as a few acres draining into a farm pond, or as large as several thousand square miles for a major river system, such as the Mississippi, or a large inland lake, such as Lake Michigan or Lake Erie.  The Huron River drains into Lake Erie, so all of the land in the Huron River Watershed is also part the Lake Erie Watershed, which is a part of the Great Lakes Watershed.

A classic river watershed is drained by creeks and streams, in a pattern similar to that made by the veins of a leaf.  Each creek has its own small watershed and collectively they merge into the river’s larger watershed.  Whether small, medium or large, all watersheds share similarities of form and function, yet each one is ecologically unique.

From the core connection between water and land, other highly complex relationships emerge, between and among animals and plants and their habitats, the habitats and the resident human beings, human beings and the environment, and human beings and their communities.  The ecology of each watershed embraces all of these relationships, whether good or bad.

The Huron River Watershed

In southeastern Michigan, the Huron River Watershed spans a land area of more than 900 square miles and drains water to the Huron River through hundreds of tributary creeks and streams. The river itself flows more than 125 miles from its headwaters at Big Lake, near Pontiac, to its mouth at Lake Erie. About 1200 miles of creeks and streams flow into the Huron’s main branch. The river’s drainage area includes seven Michigan counties (Oakland, Livingston, Ingham, Jackson, Washtenaw, Wayne, Monroe), 63 municipal governments, and a half million residents. The spectrum of land use and water environments ranges across remote natural preserves, cultivated farmland, urban and industrial centers, suburban sprawl, and an equal diversity of lakes, ponds, wetlands, creeks, and streams.


state map with Huron River Watershed


The Michigan Department of Natural Resources wrote an assessment of the Huron River Watershed in 1995. Download this report!


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