wa·​ter·​shed | \ˈwȯ-tər-ˌshed, ˈwä-\

Definition of watershed 

1 : a crucial dividing point, line, or factor : turning point

2a : a region or area bounded peripherally by a divide and draining ultimately to a particular watercourse or body of water

b : divide sense 2a

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Other Words from watershed

watershed adjective

Watershed Has Geographic Origins

Opinion on the literal geographic meaning of "watershed" is divided. On one side of the debate are those who think the word can only refer to a ridge of land separating rivers and streams flowing in one direction from those flowing in the opposite direction. That's the term's original meaning, one probably borrowed in the translation of the German Wasserscheide. On the other side of the argument are those who think "watershed" can also apply to the area through which such divided water flows. The latter sense is now far more common in America, but most Americans have apparently decided to leave the quarrel to geologists and geographers while they use the term in its figurative sense, "turning point."

Examples of watershed in a Sentence

The show will not air until after the nine o'clock watershed. a watershed moment in her life came when she inherited a reasonable sum of money and was able to start her own coffee shop

Recent Examples on the Web

The move appeared to mark a watershed for the semiautonomous territory and stoked fears that entrenched liberties are being eroded in the international finance hub. Natasha Khan, WSJ, "Hong Kong Ousts Western Journalist in Free-Speech Dispute," 5 Oct. 2018 Five years later, all three are embroiled in a watershed Supreme Court case that will decide the limits of free speech. Ashley May, USA TODAY, "Reaction to Supreme Court same-sex wedding cake verdict: 'Huge win for religious freedom'," 4 June 2018 The county is getting more than $500 million to finish the widening and other modifications of four watersheds. Fox News, "Funding will help finish Houston-area flood-control projects," 10 July 2018 On the federal level, concerns about the health of watersheds helped prompt the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970 during the administration of President Richard Nixon. Lara Korte, WSJ, "Developers Go With the Flow as New Water Rules Kick In," 10 July 2018 The bond would pay for a series of infrastructure improvements, such as detention basins, channel modification, engineering studies to determine the flood risk of watersheds and buyouts for more than 1,000 low-lying homes. Zach Despart, Houston Chronicle, "Emmett to kick off flood bond meetings Tuesday in SW Houston," 4 June 2018 Yes, leaving more water to flow into the delta from both the San Joaquin and Sacramento watersheds will be challenging for water users…. George Skelton, latimes.com, "What do Southern Californians really get out of Gov. Jerry Brown's twin tunnels project?," 12 July 2018 Ellicott City and the Chesapeake watershed demonstrate the challenges of responding to a changing climate and the impacts of human activity. Bill Gourgey, WIRED, "How Artificial Intelligence Could Prevent Natural Disasters," 10 July 2018 Although genetics is often discussed when considering trophy fish and game, there is no definitive walleye study to indicate a certain area or watershed of Wisconsin has a superior genetic make-up for big fish. Paul A. Smith, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Smith: The Wisconsin walleye record has stood since 1933. These five waters have the best potential to top it.," 25 May 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'watershed.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of watershed

1764, in the meaning defined at sense 2b

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Statistics for watershed

Last Updated

22 Nov 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for watershed

The first known use of watershed was in 1764

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English Language Learners Definition of watershed

: a time when an important change happens

: a line of hills or mountains from which rivers drain : a ridge between two rivers

: the area of land that includes a particular river or lake and all the rivers, streams, etc., that flow into it


wa·​ter·​shed | \ˈwȯ-tər-ˌshed, ˈwä-\

Kids Definition of watershed

1 : a dividing ridge (as a mountain range) separating one drainage area from others

2 : the whole area that drains into a lake or river

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to enclose within walls

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