The Watershed Game

Type of Game: 
Tabletop game (e.g., board game, card game, printouts)
Target Audience: 
University and graduate students
Elementary and secondary school students

The Watershed Game is an interactive tool that helps community leaders understand the connections between land use, clean water, and their community. Participants learn how a variety of land uses impact water and natural resources and learn how their choices can prevent adverse impacts. Participants increase their knowledge of best management practices (BMPs), the benefits of planning, and the role of policies, and how these tools can reduce runoff and reduce the impacts of storms and flooding on infrastructure and natural resources. The activity is designed to foster interaction and cooperation among participants and ensure that everyone understands that water doesn't respect political boundaries. Designed to fit within a 69 minute session. There are four versions of the Watershed Game. The Stream Version represents a small headwaters stream watershed, the Lake Version representing a lake and its watershed, the River Version representing a large river system and new in 2015, and the Classroom Version designed for middle to high school students in both formal and informal learning environments.  A fifth model will be launched in 2020 focusing on coastal waters and estuaries that includes both water quality and community resilience to extreme storms and sea level rise.

A recent impact statement for the Watershed Game is below:

TITLE: Minnesota Sea Grant’s Watershed Game Makes Waves in 24 States

RECAP: Revised in 2018, Watershed Games (Local Leaders and Classroom Versions) are now in use in 24 states and in Puerto Rico. Sea Grant trained 129 individuals to lead the games in 2018. Interest in the Gulf Coast has catalyzed a workplan to develop a coastal estuary version. Feedback from trained facilitators demonstrates increased knowledge about watersheds, improved dialogue around management strategies, and increased awareness of potential solutions to water quality impairments for different land uses.

RELEVANCE: Water quality impairments from land-based nonpoint pollution plague much of the nation’s waters, with increasingly severe flooding and stormwater runoff exacerbating the impacts. Solutions that focus on watershed-scale management require cooperation among land uses and across political boundaries. The Watershed Game is a hands-on simulation that creates a positive learning environment, requires teamwork, and helps participants learn to consider and involve all land uses with a watershed as they work to achieve their clean water goals.

RESPONSE: Minnesota Sea Grant and partner, University of Minnesota Extension revised and improved the Watershed Game for Local Leaders and Watershed Game: Classroom Version in 2018, based on extensive feedback obtained from trained facilitators. Improved kits sporting Sea Grant and Extension co-branding were distributed to all active facilitators to replace old materials. E-communications were sent out and a new website ( was launched to assist users. A national webinar featuring the game and several presentations at regional and national conferences generated significant interest in adopting the game as an educational and outreach tool.

RESULTS: Eight train-the-trainer programs in 2018 in four states were attended by 129 participants. There are now about 400 trained facilitators in 24 states. Action plans developed by trained facilitators reveal a wide range of applications, audiences, age ranges, rationales, and learning outcomes as reasons for using one or both versions of the game and supporting materials. Interest and financial support for a coastal estuary version of the game in the Gulf region has resulted in a multi-state, multi-institution effort, led off by a survey of regional managers, nonprofits, and outreach professionals to focus on most significant coastal impacts and solutions to feature in the coastal version in 2019.

PARTNERS: University of Minnesota Extension

Contact: jbilotta [at]