the water cycle

Mouse over the diagram in the Flash file below (or continue reading underneath) to learn about our planet's Water Cycle. Also check out this cool interactive water cycle animation from the EPA.

Understanding the water cycle

Water is something we often take for granted.  From the lakes and streams we play and fish in, to the water we use every day to clean and nourish our bodies, water plays an important part in our lives.  It’s a natural resource that we simply can’t live without.  That’s why it’s our responsibility to protect our water resources for the next generation.  In order to do that, we need to better understand the water cycle and how it works.

The Water Cycle is the continuous circulation of water between the earth and the atmosphere through various stages or processes such as precipitation, runoff, infiltration, evaporation, and transportation. It is the path that water takes in nature. Water falls to earth as rain or snow; soaks into the ground, is absorbed by plants or flows into lakes and streams; and evaporates or is released by plants again as water vapor.


Precipitation is atmospheric water from rain, snow, hail, sleet, dew, or frost onto a land or water surface.

Surface Water Runoff

Surface water runoff is (1) that part of the precipitation, snow melt, or irrigation water that appears in uncontrolled surface streams, rivers, drains or sewers. Runoff may be classified according to speed of appearance after rainfall or melting snow as direct runoff or base runoff, and according to source as surface runoff, storm interflow, or ground-water runoff. (2) The total discharge described in (1), above, during a specified period of time. (3) It is also defined as the depth to which a drainage area would be covered if all of the runoff for a given period of time were uniformly distributed over it.

Runoff from storm water or agricultural land can carry excess nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus into streams, lakes, and ground-water supplies. These excess nutrients have the potential to degrade water quality.



The WatercycleWhat is groundwater?

Groundwater is water beneath the surface of the earth that fills openings, known as pore spaces, in sand, gravel, or fractures of rock. It includes water stored underground in rock crevices and in the pores of geologic materials that make up the earth's crust . Groundwater's top surface is called the water table. Groundwater begins as precipitation (snow or rain) that passes through the soil and accumulates.

What is an aquifer?

An aquifer is an underground layer of rock, sand, or gravel that contains water in sufficient quantities to supply a well. When enough water accumulates underground to supply a well, it is considered an aquifer.

The City of Battle Creek obtains water from the Verona Well Field, located in the Marshall Sandstone Aquifer, a bedrock aquifer. This aquifer is the second largest producer of water in Michigan. Water from the Verona Well Field is treated at the Verona Water Treatment Plant and pumped throughout the Battle Creek area. The City of Battle Creek also maintains the Columbia Well Field, a supplemental well field for emergencies, located near Columbia Avenue. It also is in the Marshall Sandstone Aquifer.

Lakes and Streams

Lakes and streams are common examples of surface water. Surface water is water that is on the Earth's surface, such as in a stream, river, lake, reservoir, or ocean.

Evaporation and Transpiration

Transpiration is the process by which water that is absorbed by plants, usually through the roots, is evaporated into the atmosphere from the plant surface, such as leaf pores.

Evaporation is the process of liquid water becoming water vapor, including vaporization from water surfaces, land surfaces, and snow fields, but not from leaf surfaces.

Evapotranspiration is the sum of evaporation and transpiration.

Water Vapor

Water vapor is the gaseous state of water, which through condensation forms clouds and precipitation.