The Watershed Game

Game board for the Watershed Game showing game pieces, marker, eraser, and game cards.
Minnesota Sea Grant's Watershed Game Lake Model game board.

Expand all

What is a watershed?

The Mississippi River Watershed, which drains 1.15 million square miles from parts of 31 U.S. states and two Canada provinces stretches from the Rocky Mountains to the Appalachians, is the largest watershed in the U.S.

A watershed is a land area that channels rainfall and snowmelt to creeks, streams, and rivers, and eventually to outflow points such as reservoirs, bays, and the ocean. Some watersheds are relatively small, like a modest inland lake or single county. Some encompass thousands of square miles and may contain streams, rivers, lakes, reservoirs, and underlying groundwater that goes hundreds of miles inland. The size of a watershed (also called a drainage basin or catchment) is defined on several scales—referred to as its Hydrologic Unit Codes (HUC)—based on the geography that is most relevant to its specific area. Learn more about watersheds from Sea Grant's parent organization, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Project description

The Watershed Game is an interactive, educational tool that helps individuals understand the connection between land use and water quality. 

The WSG is available in two versions: 

  • The Watershed Game for Classrooms. 
  • The Watershed Game for Local Leaders 

The local-leader version comes in four tabletop models: Stream, River, Lake, and Coastal. Participants learn how a variety of land uses impact water and natural resources, increase their knowledge of best management practices (BMPs), and learn how their choices can prevent adverse impacts. Participants apply the tools of plans, practices, and policies that help them achieve clean water goals for protection and restoration while providing for community growth.

  • The stream model addresses the watershed for an entire headwater (source of a stream) and the land uses found in that watershed.
  • The river model addresses the land uses associated with large river systems and urban areas.
  • The lake model concentrates on land uses surrounding a typical lake. 
  • The coastal model focuses on improving community resilience to flooding and water quality by addressing nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment.
  • The classroom version is designed for middle-school grades 6-8, but can be used for grades 9-12. This version emphasizes collaboration and cooperative decision-making, developing persuasive arguments, teamwork, and leadership skills in addition to science and math.

Project activities:



  • The Watershed Game project team completed work on a new "Coast Model," which focuses on improving water quality by addressing nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment and improving community resilience to flooding.
The Watershed Game Coast  Model update

Why Minnesota Sea Grant?

The Watershed Game supports Sea Grant's mission to enhance the practical use and conservation of coastal, marine and Great Lakes resources in order to create a sustainable economy and environment.

What have we done lately?

  • The Watershed Game project team has developed alternative Plan Cards that can be printed on cardstock. These alternative Plan Cards can be used instead of the original hard copy Plan Cards that come with the Local Leader Version of the Watershed Game when purchased. The original Plan Cards require participants to come up with and write their own plans. The new cards have pre-written prompts, making this step easier for participants, which can potentially speed up game play. These alternative Plan Cards and other new tools and resources are anticipated to be launched in the late spring of 2023.
  • In January 2023, the Watershed Game Network Facebook Group was created to help connect people with others facilitating the Watershed Game. This group is a platform for asking questions about the Game, sharing tips and tricks for playing the Game, as well as sharing any links to complementary resources, materials, or curriculum. Join the Watershed Game Network.

Participants & Audience

The Watershed Game is designed for local community leaders and educators. 


The Watershed Game Program was originally developed by Minnesota Sea Grant and University of Minnesota Extension. The WSG is managed by Minnesota Sea Grant. Development of the new (2020) Coastal Version was made possible through the financial and in-kind support from the University of Minnesota Sea Grant, University of Minnesota Water Resources Center, Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Office for Coastal Management, Louisiana Sea Grant, Georgia Sea Grant, Alabama Water Institute and the NOAA Central Region and Gulf Coast Collaboration Teams and the National Sea Grant Office.

Upcoming Events

Split Rock Lighthouse State Park - 3755 Split Rock Lighthouse Rd, Two Harbors, MN 55616

Program Staff

John Bilotta headshot
Water Resource Management and Policy Extension Educator
Maggie Karschnia
Minnesota Sea Grant & Water Resources Center Stormwater Extension Educator
Lenna Johnsen
Minnesota GreenCorps Member (9/25/2023 - 8/31/2024)


  • Georgia Sea Grant, Sea Grant Programs
  • Louisiana Sea Grant, Sea Grant Programs
  • Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, Sea Grant Programs
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Office for Coastal Management, Federal Government
  • University of Minnesota, Water Resources Center, Academic Institution (College and University)