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Watersheds Pathway

students cleaning up waterLakes, streams, reservoirs, and wetlands—as well as the groundwater under our feet—are all parts of a watershed. Sometimes called a “catchment” or a “drainage basin,” a watershed drains water to a common outlet, such as the mouth of a bay or a point along a stream channel.

People and wildlife depend on waterways to live. Most people use a watershed for drinking water, as well as for recreational activities such as canoeing, kayaking, hiking, fishing, swimming, hunting, birding, and more.

Climate change is impacting every watershed across the nation. Some communities may feel its effects more than others, such as loss of critical habitat, encroaching invasive species, and changes in precipitation patterns resulting in floods, droughts, wildfires, and other extreme weather events. While there are numerous concerns, there are even more opportunities to implement solutions. Through education, students can discern fact from misinformation by doing science—reviewing data sets, collecting new data, and analyzing evidence to draw conclusions.

Students will use land-based investigations and systems thinking to better understand the unique qualities and health of their watershed. Technology will assist students in locating their place within their watershed and expand their conceptual connections to other watersheds and bodies of water.

Watersheds Fast Facts

Following the Framework

Utilize the Seven Step Framework to complete your pathway.

Step 1: Form an Eco-Action Team

The Eco-Action Team is the driving force behind Eco-Schools USA. Ideally, your Eco-Action Team should be representative of the whole school community—including people beyond the school walls, such as facilities staff, board members, and members of the greater community. Eco-Schools USA has developed a worksheet to help guide the development of this team.

Step 2: Conduct an Environmental Audit

The Environmental Checklist is an essential tool for understanding the current environmental situation in your school. It provides the basis for your Eco-Action Plan. Eco-Schools USA has developed an activity to get your students started.

In addition to the optional Environmental Checklist, pathway-specific audits allow teams to utilize a pathway-specific lens to dive deeper into problems and solutions, and provide the basis for the team’s Eco-Action Plan.

K-2 Conducting a Watersheds Audit | K-2 Baseline Audit | K-2 Post-Action Audit

3-5 Conducting a Watersheds Audit | 3-5 Baseline Audit | 3-5 Post-Action Audit

6-8 Conducting a Watersheds Audit | 6-8 Baseline Audit | 6-8 Post-Action Audit

9-12 Conducting a Watersheds Audit | 9-12 Baseline Audit | 9-12 Post-Action Audit


Additional Audit Resources

Step 3: Create an Eco-Action Plan

The action plan follows as the result of analysis and conclusions drawn from the Environmental Audit and sets forth a series of goals, actions, and a timeline for achieving environmental improvements.

1. To get started, preview the sample action plan for the Watersheds pathway. This example is designed to be a springboard to developing the team’s own action plan.

2. Use the blank action plan to develop the team’s vision.

Sample Action Plan (K-5) | Blank Action Plan (K-5)
Sample Action Plan (6-12) | Blank Action Plan (6-12)

Step 4: Monitor and Evaluate Progress

Monitoring and evaluation are intrinsic elements of the action plan, helping to check progress toward goals, make adjustments for greater success, and validate that actions are making an impact.

Step 5: Link to Existing Curriculum

Enrich your classroom curriculum with Eco-Schools projects and activities.

Step 6: Involve the Community

Communities are made up of diverse perspectives. When students consistently and authentically work to include community members from all walks of life, not just the school community, they are gaining access to dynamic networks whose end goals are the same, making their place in this world happier and healthier.

Step 7: Create an Eco-Code

The Eco-Code is the school’s mission statement and should demonstrate—in a positive, inclusive, and imaginative way—the whole school’s commitment to improving their environmental performance.

Step 1: Form an Eco-Action Team

The Eco-Action Team is the driving force behind Eco-Schools USA. Ideally, your Eco-Action Team should be representative of the whole school community—including people beyond the school walls, such as facilities staff, board members, and members of the greater community. Eco-Schools USA has developed a worksheet to help guide the development of this team.

Step 2: Conduct an Environmental Audit

The Environmental Checklist is an essential tool for understanding the current environmental situation in your school. It provides the basis for your Eco-Action Plan. Eco-Schools USA has developed an activity to get your students started.

In addition to the optional Environmental Checklist, pathway-specific audits allow teams to utilize a pathway-specific lens to dive deeper into problems and solutions, and provide the basis for the team’s Eco-Action Plan.

K-2 Conducting a Watersheds Audit | K-2 Baseline Audit | K-2 Post-Action Audit

3-5 Conducting a Watersheds Audit | 3-5 Baseline Audit | 3-5 Post-Action Audit

6-8 Conducting a Watersheds Audit | 6-8 Baseline Audit | 6-8 Post-Action Audit

9-12 Conducting a Watersheds Audit | 9-12 Baseline Audit | 9-12 Post-Action Audit


Additional Audit Resources

Step 3: Create an Eco-Action Plan

The action plan follows as the result of analysis and conclusions drawn from the Environmental Audit and sets forth a series of goals, actions, and a timeline for achieving environmental improvements.

1. To get started, preview the sample action plan for the Watersheds pathway. This example is designed to be a springboard to developing the team’s own action plan.

2. Use the blank action plan to develop the team’s vision.

Sample Action Plan (K-5) | Blank Action Plan (K-5)
Sample Action Plan (6-12) | Blank Action Plan (6-12)

Step 4: Monitor and Evaluate Progress

Monitoring and evaluation are intrinsic elements of the action plan, helping to check progress toward goals, make adjustments for greater success, and validate that actions are making an impact.

Step 5: Link to Existing Curriculum

Enrich your classroom curriculum with Eco-Schools projects and activities.

Step 6: Involve the Community

Communities are made up of diverse perspectives. When students consistently and authentically work to include community members from all walks of life, not just the school community, they are gaining access to dynamic networks whose end goals are the same, making their place in this world happier and healthier.

Step 7: Create an Eco-Code

The Eco-Code is the school’s mission statement and should demonstrate—in a positive, inclusive, and imaginative way—the whole school’s commitment to improving their environmental performance.

Top 10 Tips

Find and contact your local watershed council. Actions may include:

  • What role does your local facility play in your watershed?
  • Trace the path of water from school to the wastewater treatment facility.
  • Identify where runoff goes once it leaves the schoolyard.

  • Identify species needs and work to improve and maintain their habitats.
  • Find solutions to invasive species near your watershed.
  • Invite people who work with plant and animal species in your location to speak to students and collaborate on a project.

  • What are your city’s water conservation tips?
  • Test your local water quality and compare it to the city’s most recent quality report.
  • Collaborate on a project to raise water quality awareness, such as through a poster contest.

  • Use stream tables to investigate how water and pollutants flow over land.
  • Map the school grounds and locate potential problems to the local watershed.

  • A lake, river, stream or creek cleanup
  • A riparian planting
  • Christmas tree recycling for fish habitat
  • Community recycling event for household chemicals

  • Invite them to speak at your school.
  • Participate in their watershed events helping to connect and engage families with school activities.
  • Determine why champions of our waterways, such as river protectors are important.

  • Prohibit use of pesticides and fertilizer on school grounds.
  • Use native plants and shrubs as buffers near waterways.
  • Create signs that encourage people not to litter or pollute.

There are several avenues for students to conduct community and land-based investigations while contributing to scientific research: