Benefits Derived from Taking a Watershed Approach
Operating and coordinating programs on a watershed basis makes good sense for environmental, financial, social, and administrative reasons. For example, by jointly reviewing the results of assessment efforts for drinking water protection, pollution control, fish and wildlife habitat protection and other aquatic resource protection programs, managers from all levels of government can better understand the cumulative impacts of various human activities and determine the most critical problems within each watershed. Using this information to set priorities for action allows public and private managers from all levels to allocate limited financial and human resources to address the most critical needs. Establishing environmental indicators helps guide activities toward solving those high priority problems and measuring success in making real world improvements rather than simply fulfilling programmatic requirements.
Besides driving results towards environmental benefits, the approach can result in cost savings by leveraging and building upon the financial resources and the willingness of the people with interests in the watershed to take action. Through improved communication and coordination the watershed approach can reduce costly duplication of efforts and conflicting actions. Regarding actions that require permits, specific actions taken within a watershed context (for example the establishment of pollutant trading schemes or wetlands mitigation banks and related streamlined permit review) enhances predictability that future actions will be permitted and reduces costs for the private sector. As a result, the watershed approach can help enhance local and regional economic viability in ways that are environmentally sound and consistent with watershed objectives.
Finally, the watershed approach strengthens teamwork between the public and private sectors at the federal, state, tribal and local levels to achieve the greatest environmental improvements with the resources available. This emphasis gives those people who depend on the aquatic resources for their health, livelihood or quality of life a meaningful role in the management of the resources. Through such active and broad involvement, the watershed approach can build a sense of community, reduce conflicts, increase commitment to the actions necessary to meet societal goals and, ultimately, improve the likelihood of sustaining long-term environmental improvements.