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Implementing the Guiding Principles through State and Tribal Watershed Approaches

From EPA's perspective, states and tribes are in a pivotal position because they implement many existing water and natural resource protection programs and they are situated well to coordinate among other levels of government (e.g., local, regional and federal). For these reasons, EPA places special emphasis on supporting our state and tribal partners in developing and implementing comprehensive watershed approaches. This emphasis should not be construed as a lack of support for the involvement of other parties in watershed management, especially local stakeholders. As stated in the guiding principles, partnerships that promote the active participation of concerned parties from all levels of government and from across the public and private sectors is essential to the watershed approach.

EPA recognizes that each state or tribe may approach watershed management differently. The agency will not prescribe their actions; rather it supports watershed approaches that are tailored to the needs of the jurisdictions.

The agency has both a national interest in and responsibility for supporting watershed approaches. The interest stems from the belief that the diverse sources of aquatic ecosystem impacts will best be brought under control through a combination of cooperative and mandatory measures tailored to the needs in specific watersheds with wholehearted support from watershed stakeholders. EPA's responsibility includes definition and ensured compliance with basic water programs; development of national standards and tools; funding; and national assessment of status and progress.

For the long term, EPA envisions locally-driven, watershed-based activities embedded in comprehensive state and tribal watershed approaches all over the United States. Based on observation of the development of such comprehensive approaches in several jurisdictions, there are four key elements of state and tribal watershed approaches. These reflect and provide the operating structure for these guiding principles described earlier. They are:

The following describes in more detail how the key elements implement the guiding principles.

Stakeholder Involvement

Broad involvement is critical. In many cases, the solutions to natural resource problems depend on voluntary actions on the part of the people who live, work and play in the watershed. Besides improving coordination among their own agencies, the watershed approach calls upon states and tribes to fully engage local government entities, sources of watershed impacts, users of watershed resources, environmental groups, and the public in the watershed management process to help them better understand the problems, identify and buy into goals, select priorities, and choose and implement solutions.

States and tribes work with other partners on watershed management issues in geographically-based watershed "teams." As appropriate, partnerships include representatives from local, regional, state, tribal, and federal agencies, conservation districts, public interest groups, industries, academic institutions, private landowners, concerned citizens, and others. There are a great many watershed partnerships already in effect across the country. Ideally, states and tribes will commission or build on these. Some examples of partnerships that have been formed under existing programs are:

Geographic Management Units

The entire jurisdiction is divided into geographic management units. Ideally, these units are determined on the basis of hydrologic connections, as described under the geographic focus principle. Other factors such as political boundaries and existing partnership program areas are often factored into decisions about geographic management units, as well.

The size of the management unit is an important consideration because, depending on scale different parties may take different roles. For example, for large river basins or lakes, state and tribal agencies are likely to lead watershed planning efforts, while local government, conservation districts, and watershed councils may take the lead in developing and implementing solutions in smaller watersheds. "Nesting" smaller watersheds areas (such as those designated as drinking water source water protection areas or special management areas for wetlands protection) within larger watershed or river basins allows those involved at every level to scale their efforts up or down to address specific concerns and still maintain consistency with related efforts.

Coordinated Management Activities

State and tribal agencies have responsibility for many of the management activities described in the guiding principles. Ideally, the various agencies with responsibilities for wetlands protection, drinking water source protection, waste management, point and nonpoint source pollution control, air pollution, pesticide management and other programs such as water supply, agriculture, navigation, and transportation (in any given jurisdiction, these might be several different agencies) would jointly compare their lists of high priority areas, meet with each other and other stakeholders, and look for opportunities to leverage their limited resources to meet common goals. Watershed approaches should not be viewed as an additional layer of oversight; rather watershed approaches should constitute improvements in coordination of current programs, processes and procedures to increase efficiency and efficacy.

Working together cooperatively, state and tribal programs can support and facilitate many of the management activities likely to be taken by watershed teams. The activities described below suggest some of the ways that EPA-related water programs can support watershed approaches. It is important to keep in mind that many other activities and programs, both public and private, at all levels, may need to be included in watershed planning and management.

1. Assessment and Characterization of Aquatic Resources, Problems, their Causes and Sources

Ideally, monitoring parameters would be determined by water quality standards and other watershed goals and indicators, which are specified according to the needs and conditions of the area and reflect Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act goals and build on the environmental indicators that EPA and its public and private partners have adopted.

The state or tribal monitoring program should have a multiyear strategy to portray existing information on physical, chemical, biological, and habitat conditions and comprehensively monitor waters. Ideally, the strategy should recognize that responsibilities can be shared by many stakeholders and that monitoring must be done to fulfill distinct purposes: characterizing the watershed; identifying and locating specific problems; and determining if actions are effective and goals are met. A strong monitoring program should include:

2. Goal Setting

In the process of identifying goals, water quality standards provide a legal baseline or starting point. These goals clearly identify the uses to be made of the waters, for example the protection and propagation of a warm water fishery. Water quality standards also include the appropriate chemical, physical and biological criteria to characterize and protect the uses and an antidegradation policy to preserve the uses and water improvements attained in the waters of their watersheds. As an outcome of watershed planning processes, a state or tribe may also adopt new or revised water quality standards for the waters within a watershed to reflect agreements made by the stakeholders to meet the watershed goals (this would likely take place as part of the triennial review process required by law). Actions by states and tribes that support watershed efforts include:

3. Problem Prioritization and Resource Targeting

Staff in the various water-related programs in the state or tribe should work with other stakeholders to jointly set priorities for the particular suite of water resources concerns present in each identified management unit. Deliberations should consider:

The watershed approach should take into consideration the findings of and priorities established under preexisting initiatives, such as the Comprehensive State Ground Water Protection Program (CSGWPP), Wellhead Protection Program, State Wetlands Conservation Plans, NPDES watershed or basin strategy, National Estuary Program Comprehensive Conservation Management Plan, or Clean Lakes projects. In addition, states and tribes should take into consideration the goals and plans of relevant large-scale projects, such as the Chesapeake Bay, Great Lakes, and Gulf of Mexico programs and the Northwest Forest Plan and Everglades initiative. These projects may provide significant opportunities for "nesting" smaller projects within larger frameworks, yielding benefits to both.

The composition of watershed partnerships should reflect the agreed upon priorities for the watershed areas. Similarly, Clean Water Act funds, both grants and loans, should be applied to the development and implementation of watershed plans.

4. Management Option Development and Watershed (or Basin) Plans

Each watershed partnership should develop management options and set forth a watershed or basin management plan that should:

5. Implementation

Due to the participatory nature of watershed approaches, responsibility for implementation of watershed plans will fall to various parties relative to their particular interests, expertise and authorities. To the maximum extent possible, state and tribal water-related programs should support the implementation of watershed plans through their actions. They should consider the full range of tools available to them in programs as diverse as water quality protection, pesticide management, waste management, air pollution control, as well as natural resources protection, agriculture programs, water supply, transportation and other related programs. For example, under water quality and natural resource protection programs they may:

6. Monitoring and Evaluation

To evaluate the effectiveness, the watershed management cycle should include monitoring to ascertain both the environmental and socioeconomic impacts of implemented watershed plans. Progress should be reported and results of monitoring help guide decisions about continued implementation. See Assessment and Characterization of Aquatic Resources, Problems, their Causes and Sources, above.

Management Schedule

A schedule for carrying out coordinated management activities within each of the management units helps organize the work states and tribes need to undertake. The schedule would lay out a long-term program for maintaining, restoring, and protecting water resources and provide other interested parties an opportunity to plan for their involvement.

To most effectively create an orderly system for focusing and coordinating watershed management activities on a continuous basis, the schedule should contain two features:

  1. A sequence for addressing watersheds that balances workloads from year to year; and
  2. A specified length of time planned for each major management activity (e.g. assessment, management option development, implementation).

The schedule should reflect the magnitude of activities to be carried out within any particular watershed or basin, which depends largely on the range and severity of problems found within that management unit. For example, some watersheds may require minimal actions to maintain high environmental quality, whereas others may require substantial effort to restore environmental quality.

Reorganizing workloads to take a watershed approach may take a considerable amount of time. During the early phases of reorientation (before the entire jurisdiction is covered by the watershed schedule), existing program activities to address high priority restoration, remediation and/or protection concerns, such as wellhead protection, may need to proceed in some places independently of the watershed schedule. Ideally, however, over time all relevant programs would be carried out within a jurisdiction-wide watershed approach.

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