Remember the scene in movies set in pre-plumbing days where someone tosses the contents of a chamber pot out of an upstairs window onto pedestrians below?  Ha! Ha!  Aren’t we glad we live in “Modern Times.”

But the idea that we are safe  from having someone else’s waste dumped on our heads is pure illusion.  Whenever we fertilize a field or flush a toilet, we are doing exactly that to people downstream.  And we, in turn, are the target of those people who live  upstream in our particular watershed.

We got an excellent sense of how watersheds work in Wisconsin last Saturday on a train trek into the Tiffany Wildlife Area from Karen Voss, Program & Policy Analyst of the Wisconsin DNR’s Runoff Management Program.  (see my post on the trip here )

...Karen Voss explains watersheds with assistance from Brooke Bushman

Voss showed us how we can look up our individual watershed address.


We all know the street address that anchors us precisely in our community, and now thanks to Google Maps, we can pinpoint that   address by typing a few computer keys.

...Wisconsin's water basins, each of which is broken into smaller watersheds.


We all also have a watershed address that we can find online, which places us just as accurately in our watershed – after all, it’s every bit as important for fresh water to get to us as it is for free coupons and Netflix to be delivered.

Knowing our watershed address is a graphic reminder that everything flows everything flows downstream and where we sit in that process is important.  We ought to have a sense of what is happening to the water that hits the ground outside our doors.  What is the next  water body that  my land is draining to?  where does the water that flows through my land come from? Where does it go from there?

This information is all available and pretty easy to find.  We can locate or own watershed address online and follow water flowing away from our front step all the way to the sea .  We can all be desk chair Lewises and Clarks.

Here’s how it works.  You can find the name and lots more information about your watershed just by entering your zip code here

With that information, I went to this link to Wisconsin’s watersheds here

Then I plugged in my watershed, the Upper East Branch Pecatonica River Watershed.

This website is a gateway to all kinds of information about Wisconsin’s watersheds, it’s worth exploring.

By merely selecting my watershed and clicking “go” I can learned that over half the land use in this watershed is agricultural with some woodlots along valleys and creeks.  Four municipalities border the northern edge of the watershed and discharge to surface waters within.   Despite the presence of these municipalities, the population of the watershed is likely to only grow by about 8 percent over the next 20 years.  As of 2002, there were 13 streams with some stretches able to support trout.

Oh oh —  it also notes there are problems caused by non-point source pollution (that basically means farm runoff), and excess sedimentation and habitat degradation are impacting my watershed.


Go ahead Lewis – plug in your  zip code.  Now, check out your watershed address, Clark.

Do you like what you see?

What are you going to do about it?

The Chippewa River – that got me thinking about watersheds this week in the first place.

4 replies

  1. Interesting sites, Denise. But of course when I entered my zip code the system kicked me out. We have a new zip code that went into effect early this year and the Gov’t isn’t up to date.

    Actually, we live near a small creek (which would be a river out in Nevada – Hah!) which the DNR site doesn’t even list. And a half-mile south of the Dewey Marsh Wildlife Area. By accident we located in a very precious spot – our well taps the aquifer that originates in Dewey Marsh so that we have little concern about water quality and even less about running dry. Especially after the 24 inches of rain we had in June, July, and August and the 6 inches that we had in the last 36 hours! The creek is running high – there is a stump in the creek that I use to meter how high or low the water is. It’s currently totally submerged.

    Fortunately we live on sandy soil so the rainfall pretty much gets soaked up, though some roads nearby do have a sheet of water over them. It’s really interesting to drive down a road and on the right the land is totally flooded and the water is sheeting across the road to the left side which is not flooded (though obviously very wet). Gives a good sense of how the land slopes.

    • Hi Dennis,
      I wonder if you put your old zip code in if that would bring up some information.
      There is a more complicated way to find your watershed that Karen walked me through it, and I’ll be happy to try and share it, if you want.
      We live where water is plentiful and reasonably unpolluted too, but more and more contaminants are making there way all the way to the ground water in more and more places.
      It’s spooky,

  2. Oh I did, of course. We appear to live almost at the junction of 3 watersheds. Finally determined that we live at the headwaters (almost) of the Castle Rock watershed. People are pretty environmentally conscious and water conscious in the Stevens Point area. Not a whole lot of chemical farming around us, more forestry mostly and cattle pastures. And the 10 sq. mi. of Dewey Marsh as a catch basin, so the water supply really should be in pretty good condition. Hay Meadow Crk of course empties into the Wisconsin R. which is running at the highest level ever recorded (I think is what I read).

    I’m wondering, have you heard of any flooding along the Mississippi R. similar to what happened in 1993?

    • The Wisconsin has been high this summer. Usually I get out there in a borrowed kayak at least once, but not this yearso I really don’t know.
      Thursday I was talking to Karen on the phone to learn more about watersheds, she said it was raining in LaCrosse, and I have since heard that things got pretty bad up that way. At the Saturday Madison Farmers’ market, some of the farmers I talk to regularly noted that their farmer’s market neighbors who live near the Mississippi were not there Saturday, and they were worried that the missing people were flooded. But that’s all I know.
      on an unrelated topic, I used to bring my daughters to the Suzuki Institute in Stevens Point. It was the very first place in the States to offer Suzuki training.
      Back to watersheds, my zip code on my land is a complex of watersheds too. But the zip code in Madison is entirely in one watershed. I wonder how many zip codes straddle watersheds.

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