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  • Writer's pictureJenna Granger

Build Your Watershed

Updated: Dec 22, 2020

An exploration into your local watershed using snow

Grade Level:



Physical Science

Earth Science:

  • Watershed

  • Hydrology & Water Cycle

  • Topography & Map Making

Tools & Materials

  • Snow

  • Natural items found in the snow

  • Camera

To Do & Notice

1. Questions: What is a watershed? What watershed do you live in?

2. Discussion:

  • What is a watershed? Watch this video to learn more.

  • Where does the snow in your yard go when it melts?

  • Do you have any streams or creeks by your house? Where does that stream end?

  • Does your watershed go into a lake or river? Where does this river or lake go?

  • Why are watersheds important?

  • Talk with your parent about the watershed you live in.

3. Gather information and evidence:

  • Look at a terrain map of your watershed (make sure it is on terrain view by going to the menu in the top left corner). Zoom out and to get a big picture and zoom in to get more detail. Can you find your home?

4. Get prepared:

  • Get your gloves and snow gear on and head out into the snow! Find an open spot with untracked snow if possible.

4. Build your watershed:

  • Use snow to create your own terrain map or model of a watershed and add details like your house, your school and other important places for you with branches, sticks, pine needles or whatever you can find in the snow!

5. Share your creation:

  • Take a photo or short video of the watershed model you have created to share on social media and tag us @sweptahoe on Instagram and/or to @swep4 on Facebook. Be sure to hashtag and follow #SWEPsnippets. If you cannot post directly yourself, send SWEP your photos & video(

Watch this short video from SWEP Field Instructor, Jenna, as she builds her watershed in her backyard out of snow. Where does the snow in your yard go when it melts? Make your own video and send it to and we will add it to this page!

What is Going On?

  • There are 63 streams that flow into Lake Tahoe and one outlet, the Truckee River, which drains into Pyramid Lake.

  • The lake holds nearly 39 trillion gallons of water.

  • It takes, on average, 650 years for water that enters the lake to leave the lake!

  • Lake Tahoe is the second deepest lake in the United States.

  • Lake Tahoe is an oligotrophic (clean and low nutrient), subalpine lake.

  • 75% of the watershed area and 67% of the lake area is within California, the rest is in Nevada, however watersheds know no political borders.


Going Further

  • Explore how pollution travels in a watershed by creating your own model of a watershed using paper, markers & a spray bottle. Click here for a video with more detailed instructions: Paper Watershed Model

  • Did you know that the water in our watershed is 4.5 billion years old? All of the water on Earth is 4.5 billion year old….mind blowing huh!? The same water has been travelling around and around the earth through the water cycle. Want to learn about the water cycle? Watch this cartoon that explains how the water cycle works.

  • Can you read a topographic map? What do the lines mean? Learn how with this video. Then find the nearest mountain to you or your favorite ski area on Caltopo, an interactive topo map.

Thanks to our partners at Winter Wildland Alliance's SnowSchool and Tahoe Cross Country Ski Education Association for supporting student’s snow science learning activities.

Please review SWEP's Terms of Use prior to using this resource.

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