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Kansas Forest Service

Kansas Forest Service
2610 Claflin Road
Manhattan, KS 66502
785.532.3300

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What is a Watershed?

A watershed is an area of land that drains to a common point – such as a stream, river system, or other body of water. Watersheds can vary in size from a few acres (draining to a cattle pond) to those that encompass multiple states (Mississippi River basin, draining to the Louisiana coast). Every square inch of Kansas is located within a watershed. Defining what watershed you are in, however, is all about scale – land draining to a Kansas cattle pond is its own watershed, however, at the same time, it is also part of the larger Mississippi River basin. This interconnectedness means that water quality enhancing practices we install here in Kansas, such as streamside forest buffers, also have the ability to positively impact water quality over 1000 miles away!

Does your watershed have an address?

In a sense, yes. Watersheds, like residences, are defined by an “address.” For watersheds, this address is termed a Hydrologic Unit Code, or HUC, for short. HUCs typically range from 2 to 12 numbers, and those HUCs with the smallest amount of numbers represent the largest watersheds. For example, the HUC for the Missouri River watershed above St. Louis, Missouri (which encompasses parts of 10 western states) is “10.” On the other side of the spectrum, the HUC for the Banner Creek watershed (which covers only a small portion of Jackson County, Kansas) is “102701030305.” More numbers are added to a HUC as the watershed becomes smaller and more specific. Because 12 digits appear in Banner Creek’s HUC, the watershed can be referred to as the “Banner Creek HUC 12”. Note that the first two numbers within the Banner Creek HUC are “10.” This indicates that the Banner Creek drainage is located within the Missouri River drainage. According to the Kansas Water Office, our state has 90 HUC 8’s, 355 HUC 11’s, and over 2000 HUC 12 watersheds!