Skip to Main Content
Contact Us Search
Parks Title

Lesson Four: Know Your Ecological Address

Students will:

  • Identify an ecological address and watershed
  • Understand the role of human activity in a watershed

Time Required
One fifty minute class session

Materials Required
California watershed map
State highway map or other map showing streams and rivers in your local area
Paper for drawing their own watershed "maps"
Colored pencils or makers (can be shared by a group of students)
String or yarn (about one foot per student)
Copied student readings, if used: Finding Your Ecological Address, Wherever You Are-It's a Watershed

1. Use one or both student readings to prepare students for this activity and complete the student activity.

2. Begin by asking students to share their home mailing or street addresses. Write a few of them on the chalkboard. Explain that these postal addresses have been devised by society-that they are "social" addresses. They are important because people need to be located within their community by family, friends, and services such as the mail, police, fire or ambulance.

3. Now tell students that they all have another kind of address, called an ecological address. Invite students to discuss the meaning of the word "ecological," eliciting from them the understanding that it refers to the relationship between an organism and its environment. Just as a postal address tells people one way that they are connected to a community, the ecological address tells people how they are connected to the land on which they live. In this activity, the ecological address will be based on an ecological feature they have just started learning about-the watershed.

4. Have students discuss the term "watershed." Let students share their definitions from the student activity page. Try to develop a class definition, which should approximate this: all the land area that drains into a particular body of water. Tell students that they will be locating their own ecological addresses by finding and learning about the watershed where they live.

5. To help students understand the concept of a watershed, trace the outline of your hand, wrist and part of your arm on the chalkboard. Color in the space between your fingers and label your arm "Green River." Tell students that this outline is a model for a watershed area. Your fingers represent streams that feed into the larger river (your arm). The colored space between your fingers is land, where people live. Let students know that a watershed's name is usually taken from the stream or river that serves as the main collector of all the water in the watershed. Ask students what the watershed you just drew would be called (The Green River Watershed). Write the name on the board.

6. Ask students how large they think watersheds can be, then how small they can be. They should recall some of this from their reading. Impress upon the students that large watersheds include many small watersheds. The Mississippi River has the largest watershed area in the United States, taking in runoff from thirty-one states drained by the Platte and Missouri Rivers which are tributaries of the Mississippi. With its headwaters at the far north near Lake Superior, the Mississippi River eventually flows to sea in the the Gulf of Mexico.

7. Students are now ready to work with the California watershed map. Divide the class into pairs of students and give each pair a copy of the watershed map. Tell them that the outside boundaries of the Russian River watershed are ridges of high elevation, and that runoff from rain that falls inside of this boundary can increase the flow within the Russian River system-and none other.

8. Have them locate a stream called Porter Creek. Also have students locate the point where Porter Creek runs into the Russian River. Explain that the Russian River runs into the Pacific Ocean.

9. Next have students locate the Dry Creek watershed by drawing a line around it with pencil or marker. Then have them locate the Mill Creek watershed with a dashed line. The key is that Mill Creek has several smaller tributaries that form a part of its watershed area. Have students compare the map showing the entire Russian River watershed with the smaller inset map. How do the smaller watersheds they've located fit into the Russian River watershed as a whole? Smaller watersheds are often said to be "nested" within a larger watershed. make sure all teams have correctly identified the watershed before asking the following questions:

  • "If you lived in the town of Healdsburg, in which watershed (or sheds) would you live?" (You would actually live in the Dry Creek watershed, which is part of the larger Mill Creek watershed, and part of the even larger Russian River watershed.) Remind students that a large watershed is made up of many smaller watersheds, and that Dry Creek, Mill Creek and Russian River would be correct answers to the question.
  • "If you lived in Ukiah, in which watershed would you live?" (Russian River)

10. Suggest that everyone lives in a watershed, and ask students to explain why this is true. (All land has waterways running through it that drain into larger waterways. For example, in most urban areas rainwater feeds into storm drains. The drains then feed into nearby streams or rivers.)

11. Using a local map that shows streams and rivers, have each student name the watershed in which he or she lives. Explain that this watershed is the student's ecological address, and that this address describes how he or she is connected to the land and water system that drains it. In urban areas that are hilly, a city map will be needed to determine the exact watershed in which a house might be found. Depending on the proximity of waterways, the watershed named should reflect that students' ecological addresses can have several components, from the smallest watershed they can observe to a larger watershed of which the smaller one is a part. Have some students share their ecological addresses while other students follow along on their own maps.

12. Have students make a "map" of their ecological address. The map need not be to scale, but it should represent the watershed(s) in which the students live. As an alternative or additional activity, have the entire class make a larger map of the watershed on large sheets of paper.

13. Have students brainstorm a list of what they think can happen to water as it moves through a watershed. Highligh the things that are caused by human activity. These might include actions such as discarding oil or other wastes into a stream, clearing land (removing vegetation), or washing cars with soaps that contain phosphates (non-biodegradable chemicals). Then have students determine how and where these chemicals would travel in their watershed. They can do this by tracing the path from the smallest tributary in the smallest watershed as it empties into larger and larger watershed areas. Have students repeat the actiivty, this time looking at non-human influences on watersheds, such as heavy rains, wind, and other natural phenomena.

14. Have students calculate how many miles or kilometers of stream and river are in their watershed, using the "scale of miles" on the published map. Using string to follow a curving waterway on the map can make measurement easier and more accurate. This measurement will help make clear to students the amount of area impacted by human activities affecting the watershed system.

1. Build a list of who and what uses your watershed-from people to fish to wildlife. For each, make a list of the effects on the watershed.

Answer Key

The Salmon Source: An Educator's Guide. Used with permission from California Department of Fish and Wildlife.