A term coined to refer to the higher ground—the line, ridge, or summit—that separates two drainage basins, watershed has since come to mean the region drained by such a divide, and an area through which water is drained into a particular watercourse or body of water. Watershed also refers to a turning point, or dividing line, that precipitates significant change. Due to this multiplicity of meanings, some scientists consider watershed “undesirable” as a scientific designation, yet it remains a standard term more or less synonymous with drainage basin. In thinking about life in the watershed of the Kentucky River, Wendell Berry writes: “Pondering on the facts of gravity and the fluidity of water shows us that the golden rule speaks to a condition of absolute interdependency and obligation. People who live on rivers—or, in fact, anywhere in a watershed—might rephrase the rule in this way: do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you.”

Donna Seaman