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Difference between River Basin and Watershed

Difference between River Basin and Watershed

A watershed and a river basin are two different things, even though they are both used to describe an area of land that drains water. A watershed is an entire area that water flows over, while a river basin is only the part of a watershed that contributes water to a particular river or stream. Knowing the difference is important for understanding how water moves across the landscape and how best to protect it.

What is River Basin?

River basins are drainage areas for rivers and their tributaries. Rainwater and melted snow collect in a river basin, which drains into the river. River basins are typically located in low-lying areas at the base of hills and mountains. The size of a river basin can range from a few square kilometers to millions of square kilometers. The largest river basin in the world is the Amazon River Basin, which covers an area of more than 7 million square kilometers. River basins are important because they help to regulate the flow of water and prevent flooding.

What is Watershed?

Watershed is the scientific term for an area of land that drains into a body of water. Watersheds can be as small as a roadside ditch or as large as an entire continent. The size of a watershed depends on the geology of the land, specifically the type of rock and soil that make up the bedrock. Watersheds are created when rainwater or melting snow flows downhill, following the contours of the land. As the water flows, it picks up sediment and deposits it in lower-lying areas. This process is known as erosion. Over time, erosion can create large depressions in the landscape, such as valleys and canyons. The largest watershed in the world is the Amazon Basin, which covers more than 2 million square miles (5 million square kilometers) and drains into the Atlantic Ocean.

Difference between River Basin and Watershed

River basins and watersheds are often confused with one another, but there are actually several key differences between the two. A river basin is the area of land where all the water from a river and its tributaries drains into. In contrast, a watershed is the area of land that drains into a particular body of water, such as a lake or a stream. River basins can be much larger than watersheds, as they encompass all the tributaries that flow into a river. Additionally, river basins usually contain multiple watersheds. For example, the Mississippi River Basin includes the watersheds of the Missouri, Ohio, and Arkansas Rivers. Understanding the difference between these two terms is important for anyone who works with water resources.


The terms “river basin” and “watershed” are often used interchangeably, but they have different meanings. A watershed is the area of land that drains into a river or other body of water, while a river basin is a geographical area delineated by the catchment area of a river and its tributaries. It’s important to understand the difference between these two terms because it impacts how we manage our water resources. For example, if you are working on a project in your community that affects water drainage, it’s important to know whether you are affecting a watershed or part of a river basin.

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