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About the Watershed

What is a Watershed?

A watershed is a basin-like landform, defined by the surrounding topography, dividing areas that are drained by different river systems.  A watershed encompasses the area of land where all of the water that is under it or drains off of it from the land goes into a particular body of water.  The water travels through the soil, groundwater, and streams, creating a combined water system. These areas are also sometimes referred to as basins.

The Juniata River Watershed

The Juniata watershed is made up of 3,400 square miles that encompass 12 counties in south central Pennsylvania. All or part of Bedford, Blair, Cambria Centre, Franklin, Fulton, Huntingdon, Juniata, Mifflin, Perry, Snyder, and Somerset Counties make up the Juniata watershed. The watershed is bordered to the north by the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, to the east by the Susquehanna River, to the south by the Potomac River, and to the west by the Ohio River. The western boundary is the Allegheny Front, which separates rivers that flow eastward toward the Susquehanna River and Chesapeake Bay from those that flow westward toward the Ohio River and eventually the Mississippi.

The Juniata River

The Juniata River is approximately 100 miles long and is the second largest tributary to the Susquehanna River. The main stem of the Juniata enters the Susquehanna River near Duncannon, in Perry County. The main stem of the Juniata River is formed by three major tributaries: the Raystown Branch, the Frankstown Branch, and the Little Juniata River. These three streams originate on the eastern slope of the Allegheny Front. The Raystown Branch, the largest tributary of the Juniata River, is 124 miles long and drains rough mountainous country. The Frankstown branch is 45 miles long and the Little Juniata is 32 miles long. Other major tributaries of the Juniata include Standing Stone Creek, Aughwick Creek, Kishacoquillas Creek, and Tuscarora Creek. The seven subbasins of the Juniata watershed are named for these seven major tributaries. In total, more than 400 named streams flow into the Juniata River. When the lengths of all the major and minor tributaries are added together, they equal a total of 6560 stream miles!

The Basin

The Juniata River basin lies in the ridge and valley region of the Appalachian Mountains. Most of the rock found in the basin is sandstone, shale, and limestone. Bituminous coal is abundant in the Broad Top Region and along the Allegheny Front. Other mineral resources have been extracted throughout the watershed including sand, manganese, clay, limestone, zinc, lead, iron, aluminum, and copper.

The ridges and valleys of the Juniata watershed are generally oriented in a northeast to southwest direction. The highest ridges of the Juniata River basin range upward of 3,000 feet above sea level with the highest point being Blue Knob at 3,146 feet above sea level. The lowest point is at the confluence of the Juniata and Susquehanna Rivers at 340 feet above sea level. Most of the forestland in the Juniata watershed exists on or near the mountain ridges. The forests are composed primarily of oak, hickory, maple, beech, birch, elm, ash, aspen, and pine.


The name “Juniata” comes from an American Indian word meaning standing stone and is thought to be a reference to a projecting rock the Juniata tribe paid reverence to. This standing stone was located at the mouth of Standing Stone Creek in Huntingdon. The Juniata River watershed is a predominantly rural region.  The area is especially notable for its history as a major transportation corridor across the Commonwealth. The Pennsylvania Main Line Canal and the Pennsylvania Railroad, both built in the early to mid- 1800s, traveled along the Juniata River from the Susquehanna River to the Allegheny Ridge, providing a key link between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Iron production flourished in the 1800s, and the modern transportation systems helped this area grow rapidly. Iron production began to decline in the 1870s, while coal mining, limestone quarrying, and sand quarrying increased. The production of silica bricks became the dominant industry into the early 1900s. Since the early 1900s, through the present day, the Juniata River region has alternated between periods of prosperity and depression.

More information about the Juniata River Watershed can be found in the Management Plan