A watershed is a geographic area that empties, or drains, into a common body of water. Lakes, streams, wetlands, rivers, estuaries, and ground water can all be components of a watershed. As a system, a watershed can have several functions: collecting rainwater (flood prevention); removing particulate matter, nutrients, fertilizers, pesticides, and minerals from the water; delivering nutrients and minerals downstream; purifying drinking water; and providing habitat for plants and animals. Riparian vegetation, occurring along the bank of a stream, not only helps filter and cleanse water prior to entering the main water body, but also shades the water and the plants and animals living there.
The interconnectedness that exists within a watershed also leaves it vulnerable to human impact and environmental change. The creation of buildings, parking lots, and roads; the draining of wetlands; mining; deforestation; and agricultural activities can all alter the quality and quantity of water that flows over and infiltrates into the ground. These changes can alter watershed functions by eliminating critical water storage sites (e.g., wetlands and floodplains) and by contributing additional sediments and chemicals to runoff. Human activities can also eliminate critical natural habitat sites, thereby limiting biodiversity in the watershed (Ohio State University Fact Sheet).
Pollution in one area, the loss of another, these impact the entire region that is located downstream. The solution is watershed management, an attempt at restoring watersheds to their prime functioning capacity. Until recently, watershed management had been strictly under government control; now, in many areas, a community-based approach to watershed management is being put in place (Watershed Management Council 2002). This community-based approach takes into account environmental factors, as well as social and economic factors, in determining what strategies benefit the community the most. The community approach also crosses traditional political and municipal boundaries with the watershed being viewed as a "divide separating one drainage area from another…" rather than one town from another (Watershed Management Council 2002). Florida Gulf Coast University’s campus ecosystem is part of a watershed that eventually spills into Estero Bay. It is this watershed that helps maintain healthy estuaries and a healthy bay.