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

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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 DeLaats were just two of the almost 600 people who gathered last week at Raveneaux Country Club to learn about and discuss the Harris County Flood Control District’s plans for Cypress Creek watershed. Jane Stueckemann, Houston Chronicle, "Cypress Creek-area residents review county flood control plans," 19 June 2018 The pipeline would pass through the watersheds of some of the richest wild rice beds in the world. Sarah Hurtes, Harper's BAZAAR, "Women Who Risk Everything to Defend the Environment," 30 Nov. 2018 No one in 1900 anticipated the environmental effects of linking two vast watersheds. Ken Jennings, Condé Nast Traveler, "The Chicago River Actually Flows Backwards," 8 Oct. 2018 Working with regional partners to provide watershed education is worth five points, but making a watershed management plan is worth 15 points. Denise Coffey, Courant Community, "Putnam Registers To Participate In Sustainable CT," 11 July 2018 In the Williams area, this includes the Bill Williams Mountain watershed. Scott Craven, azcentral, "Some Arizona fire restrictions lifted; forests reopening," 11 July 2018 The county is getting more than $500 million to finish the widening and other modifications of four watersheds. Juan A. Lozano, The Seattle Times, "Funding will help finish Houston-area flood-control projects," 9 July 2018 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

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

4 Jan 2019

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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