Resource: Watershed Locator

Resource: Watershed Locator

Do you know what watershed you live in? Neither do many people (including those who are well-informed about resource management), according to Howard Silverman of Ecotrust in Portland, Ore.

A greater understanding of our regional resources helps us gain perspective when we look at where we fit within the natural world. Ecotrust has developed a new tool -- the watershed locator -- that makes it a cinch for Pacific Northwesterners to find and learn about the watersheds they live and work in.

The watershed locator is one of the first general-audience tools to come from Ecotrust's Inforain site, which is an extensive collection of detailed regional research results, and interpretive open-source tools, that has before now been mostly geared toward use by specific audiences. Ecotrust's Silverman says that the site is a test for what he hopes will be more detailed general-use sites in the future – places where users can go for personally-relevant information extracted from a wealth of regional data (he cites WalkScore as an example of a successful model).

The watershed locator works like this: Enter your address, and the locator relays the info through a mix of open-source and other available software (like the Yahoo! Geocoder service) to pin down your exact latitude and longitude, and identify the corresponding watershed.

Your watershed info is listed in a ladder—for example, here at the Worldchanging office, the land under our feet is part of the Cedar River watershed and drains directly into Lake Washington, which feeds Puget Sound. And you can find a list of other interesting data (gleaned from the U.S. Census Bureau and other reputable researchers) about who and what your share your watershed with, including the number of people, the square miles of forest and farmland, and even the number of LEED-certified buildings.

Once I know that, a quick look around the web gets me to King County's information site regarding The Cedar River - Lake Washington watershed and its role in draining the land I walk on nearly every day.

Eventually, Silverman hopes, we'll be able to get extensive information off the site about ways we affect the watershed both positively and negatively. For example, a neighborhood innovation like this curb/swale system of stormwater management in Portland, Ore., would be noted alongside its watershed.

So what can you use this tool for? Silverman hopes that savvy types use it to inform others, and to get people thinking about their city, their neighborhood, and the natural systems that support and are affected by those developed systems. "To me, that's an intriguing way of immediately pulling people out of their mental models, and offering an alternative one," he says. "Climate change is important on a global scale, but there are nested scales, and the watershed is one regional scale that is very important."

Read more about the concept of sustainable development on an appropriate scale in Alex Steffen's post: Cities of the Future, Today.

Image: Map of Puget Sound Watershed by Shared Strategy for Puget Sound.