Nova Scotia has no shortage of watersheds – but what is a watershed, and for that matter, why should you be interested? As environmental engineers, we’re a little biased. But the truth is that Strum sees a lot of work coming through the door tied to watersheds. With that in mind we thought to ourselves ‘why not shed some light on what some people consider a dry topic’. 

Defining a watershed

A watershed may not be what you had in mind. Far from a simple structure that houses water stores, the watersheds we deal with are areas of land that water runs under or drains to. These sources can include rivers, streams, lakes, rainfall, storm water runoff, and more. The two main types of watersheds are open and closed, where the open variant discharges water into the ocean, and closed variants need water to escape through evaporation or absorption. The well known scientist and geographer John Wesley Powell probably described watersheds best:

“that area of land, a bounded hydrologic system, within which all living things are inextricably linked by their common water course and where, as humans settled, simple logic demanded that they become part of a community.”

A watershed can be big or small, but will adhere to one of those two basic categories; open or closed. An example of one of the largest watersheds would be the Mississippi river basin, which includes parts of 31 U.S states and 2 Canadian provinces within its 3, 220, 000 km area! 

Their importance

OK, so you know what a watershed is. Now why should you be interested? The reality is that these watersheds are home to a lot of water, and usually of the fresh, drinkable variety. That’s a resource that should never go to waste, and part of our job is maintaining the integrity of those bodies of water and the sources that feed into them. The fluctuating levels of specific chemicals and metals, pH values, and the flow of rivers and streams are all factors that we consider carefully when assessing a watershed’s sustainability and what we can do to ensure that continued health. Part of those efforts include working with local businesses surrounding these invaluable watersheds to enforce pollution standards and keep the water and its ecosystems free from damage. When an entire community counts on a watershed for their drinkable water, one takes these measures very seriously!

Lake Pockwock

A fascinating example of a watershed project local to Nova Scotia is the Lake Pockwock watershed.  The Pockwock watershed study closely analyzed the effects of nearby foresting on the quality of the surface water of Lake Pockwock. Since the lake contributes to HRM’s fresh water supply, the study was of the utmost importance. It’s studies like these that make the work we’re doing with watersheds so invaluable to our communities and, in turn, so gratifying to the Strum teams that take them on. Developing processes that promote and maintain sustainable environments is something we’re incredibly passionate about, and proud of.

We’re all connected through our water supplies. Ecosystems come together at communal watersheds in the same way that communities band together and are built to thrive near reliable sources of clean, drinkable water. If we can advocate a greener mindset, and activities that have positive effects on the most important resource we share, our culture will grow for the better. As the great David Suzuki said, “we all live downstream”.
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