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Healthy Watersheds Protection

Healthy Watersheds Projects in Region 5

Serving IL, IN, MI, MN, OH, and WI

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Regional-wide Projects

Natural Connections: Green Infrastructure in Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana This website provides maps and GIS data layers for users to make their own explorations of Green Infrastructure in the 4-county region. The maps can be used as a tool for creating linkages between existing protected lands and for identifying opportunities for natural resource protection and restoration. The assessment and maps show that the region has vast green infrastructure resources, but only a limited amount is currently protected and many of the protected areas are isolated from each other.

USGS Report on Lake Level Variability and Water Availability in the Great Lakes (PDF) (32 pp, 1.34 MB) This report provides recorded and estimated (prior to data collection) changes in water levels in the Great Lakes, relates those changes to impacts such as climate change, and highlights major water availability implications for storage, coastal ecosystems and human activities.

Conservation Priorities for Freshwater Biodiversity in the Upper Mississippi River Basin This study investigated biodiversity within the Mississippi River Basin and identified conservation opportunities to protect key resources and habitat areas.

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Indiana Projects

Strategic Conservation Planning Midwest Case Studies (PDF) (6 pp, 1.9MB) The Land Trust Alliance has compiled a series of case studies emphasizing challenging aspects of conservation planning. This case study describes how the Central Indiana Land Trust has developed tools for use in its focus areas and adapted them to meet the needs of other projects.

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Michigan Projects

Michigan’s Natural Rivers Program Established in 1970, Michigan’s Natural Rivers Program was created to preserve, protect and enhance the state's river systems by allowing property owners their right to reasonable development, while protecting Michigan's unique river resources. The program now includes stretches of sixteen rivers. Landowners possessing property along these rivers are allowed reasonable development rights only to the extent that these rights do not infringe upon the ability of current and future generations to enjoy the rivers’ resources.

Application of the Richards-Baker Flashiness Index to Gaged Michigan Rivers and Streams (PDF)(149 pp, 4.96 MB) Stream flashiness is a stream flow response to storms. Streams that rise and fall quickly are considered flashier than those that maintain a steadier flow. An increase in flashiness, often due to changing land use, is a common cause of stream channel instability. The Richards-Baker Flashiness Index (R-B Index) uses data from United States Geological Survey (USGS) gaging stations to quantify the frequency and rapidity of short-term changes in stream flow.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) Nonpoint Source (NPS) Program staff calculated R-B Index values and assessed trends for 308 USGS gages in Michigan watersheds that had at least five years of data through the end of water year 2011. This report describes the flashiness analysis methodology and results. The information should also be useful to those interpreting other data, such as watershed development trends, stream bank erosion rates or biological survey data. This information can be incorporated into stream stability assessments and watershed management plans. Watershed stakeholders should also find it useful as an aid to Best Management Practices (BMPs) selection and design.

Regional-scale Habitat Suitability Model to Assess the Effects of Flow Reduction on Fish Assemblages in Michigan Streams (PDF) (50 pp, 3.10MB) This model was developed as part of Michigan’s Water Withdrawal Assessment Process to predict changes in characteristic fish assemblages in 11 stream types throughout Michigan due to base flow changes resulting from water withdrawals. Model outputs were used to produce fish response curves for each stream type that guided discussions of adverse resource impacts and maximum allowable withdrawals. The models are also a key component of the online Michigan Water Withdrawal Assessment Tool to screen proposed withdrawals for risks to stream ecosystems.

The Bear Creek Watershed Protection Overlay District (PDF) The purpose of the overlay district is to establish regulations to preserve and enhance the integrity of Bear Creek, Armstrong Creek, Stout Creek and associated tributaries which make up Michigan’s Bear Creek Watershed. These creeks and streams are a valuable natural resource of Cannon Township as they contribute to the Township’s rural character, provide scenic views and serve as a habitat for fish and wildlife. The regulations are designed to prevent soil erosion along creek banks, prevent sedimentation from entering the creeks, preserve and enhance vegetation along the creeks and ensure adequate setbacks for buildings, structures and septic systems.

Michigan’s Water Withdrawal Assessment (PDF) (4 pp, 1.66 MB) This assessment evaluates the potential for a large-quantity water withdrawal in Michigan to negatively impact nearby streams and rivers based on the relationships between ground water and surface water flows and fish populations.

Michigan Water Withdrawal Assessment Tool Michigan’s Water Withdrawal Assessment Process is used to regulate new or increased large quantity withdrawals (more than 100,000 gallons of water per day) from any source for the purpose of preventing adverse resource impacts on streams. The Water Withdrawal Assessment Process is ecologically based, built around a stream classification system, expected fish communities for those classifications, and modeled fish community responses to streamflow changes resulting from withdrawals of varied magnitude. Through the legislative process, maximum withdrawals allowed were determined and defined in statute. To facilitate decision making, an online screening tool was developed to estimate the impact of withdrawing water on the nearby stream ecosystems. Proposed withdrawals with a high likelihood for adverse resource impacts require further site-specific investigation for permitting decisions.

Michigan Aquatic Gap Project The goal of the Aquatic GAP Analysis Program is to keep common species common by identifying those species and communities that are not adequately represented in existing conservation areas or management plan. The Gap Analysis Program (GAP) is sponsored by the Biological Resources Discipline of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The goal of the Michigan GAP is to map the species distributions and diversity of fish and other aquatic species and their habitats and to identify gaps in the conservation of these species. This information will provide managers, planners, scientists and policy makers with the information they need to identify priority areas for conservation before a species is threatened or endangered.

Comprehensive Study on Economic Valuation, Economic Impact Assessment, and State Conservation Funding of Green Infrastructure Assets in Michigan (PDF) (108 pp, 11.5MB) This report consists of three studies related to natural resource valuation, natural resource impact analysis and natural resource conservation funding in Michigan. They are part of a broader framework aimed at understanding the relationship between green infrastructure assets and economic impacts.

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Minnesota Projects

Minnesota’s Watershed Health Assessment Framework The Watershed Health Assessment Framework (WHAF) provides a comprehensive overview of the ecological health of Minnesota's watersheds. WHAF is based on a whole-system approach, evaluating five components that together provide an integrated view of watershed health: biology, connectivity, geomorphology, hydrology and water quality. Each component is scored for 81 major watersheds of the state using statewide GIS data and component scores are used to calculate a combined Watershed Health Score.

Minnesota National Lakes Assessment Project  As a product of U.S. EPA’s 2007 National Lake Assessment, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency compiled a report summarizing the water chemistry of the state’s lakes. This assessment incorporates data collected from 50 surveyed lakes and 14 reference lakes to characterize the water clarity, ion chemistry, nutrient concentrations and trophic status of Minnesota’s lakes.

Developing Ecological Criteria for Sustainable Water Management in Minnesota (PDF) (129 pp, 3.5MB) The goal of this project was to develop recommendations and indicators for ecological criteria for instream flow protection in Minnesota, with special attention to rivers and streams in Minnesota’s Great Lakes basin. Products were developed through a collaborative process with public agencies in Minnesota and other experts, building on partnerships between The Nature Conservancy and U.S. Geological Survey across the Great Lakes. The final report assesses available data, tools and approaches that can be used to establish ecologically-based instream flow protections in Minnesota.

Minnesota Stream Habitat Program The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Stream Habitat Program gathers and provides information on Minnesota streams and rivers to guide protection and restoration efforts. The Stream Habitat Program frames stream health around five components: shape, flow, connectivity, biology and water quality. A primary objective is to ensure that an adequate amount of water is flowing in rivers and streams throughout the year to protect fish and wildlife. The Stream Habitat Program also works to promote stream connectivity through dam removals, installation of fish passages and design of road-stream crossings to minimize stream impacts.

Twin Cities Regionally Significant Ecological Areas The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources conducted a landscape assessment of the Twin Cities metro area to identify ecologically significant terrestrial and wetland areas using data from the Minnesota Land Cover Classification System. The following six attributes, selected from major ecological principles, were used to identify regionally significant terrestrial and wetland areas: natural land cover (low imperviousness area and presence of continuous vegetative cover); patch size; patch shape; adjacent land cover/use; connectivity to other natural areas; and presence of native plant communities. Collectively, the mapped significant ecological areas provide wildlife habitat, maintain biological diversity, maintain connectivity, contribute to groundwater recharge and improved water quality, and represent high to outstanding examples of native plant communities.

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Ohio Projects

Field Evaluation Manual for Ohio’s Primary Headwater Habitat Streams (PDF) (66 pp, 1.02MB) Because many "index of biotic integrity" assessment systems are watershed size dependent, they often cannot be used to identify the well-being of the native fauna that survive and reproduce in small headwater stream ecosystems. This manual provides a method for assessing headwater stream habitats.

Ohio’s Statewide Biological and Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment To assess the attainment and appropriateness of the water quality designations assigned to its streams and rivers, Ohio EPA monitors water chemistry and fish and macroinvertebrate assemblages in all of its streams and rivers on a rotating basis. In addition to supporting the development of the state’s 303(d) list, these data are used to determine whether or not Ohio’s streams and rivers adequately support aquatic life (including consumable fish), recreational opportunities, and drinking water supplies for the state as a whole. Other agencies have also used bioassessment data and biocriteria to assist with management of rare, threatened and endangered species; scenic river designations; environmental impact assessment; and fisheries management.

Ohio Watershed Network The Ohio Watershed Network consists of many partners and programs that promote watershed management in Ohio. A few of the partners include local watershed coordinators, Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Ohio EPA watershed program staff, local health departments, Soil and Water Conservation Districts, and the Ohio Environmental Council. Programs affiliated with the Network include the Ohio Department of Natural Resources state watershed coordinator grants program and Ohio EPA's Section 319 program.

Ohio Rapid Assessment Method for Wetlands v. 5.0 (ORAM) (PDF) (72 pp, 1.28 MB) To facilitate comparison of the quality and function of wetlands across the state, Ohio developed a Rapid Assessment Method for Wetlands. The ORAM sorts wetlands among three categories using a numeric scoring system.

Ecological Low Flow Protection Process for Ohio Streams and Rivers of the Lake Erie Basin (PDF) (31 pp, 2.47 MB) This document describes the process used in Ohio to determine minimum acceptable flow levels for the state’s streams and rivers. The state identified sensitive fish species richness as the ideal metric for determining whether or not a stream’s flow level is sufficient.

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Wisconsin Projects

Wisconsin Integrated Assessment of Watershed Health (PDF) (111 pp, 9.3MB) The EPA Healthy Watersheds Program and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) conducted an integrated assessment of relative watershed health throughout Wisconsin. Fifteen metrics were selected to describe landscape condition, hydrologic condition, habitat condition, geomorphology, water quality and biological condition. Metrics were quantified for each catchment in WDNR’s hydrography database using a combination of existing GIS layers and statistical models that predicted values of streamflow alteration, stream habitat condition, stream chemistry and stream biological condition metrics.

Statistical models used landscape variables such as land cover, soil attributes and topography as predictors of stream conditions within each catchment. Metrics were combined into a Landscape Condition Index and an Aquatic Ecosystem Health Index. Index scores are being used for planning and evaluation of several WDNR watershed protection and restoration programs. To complement the analysis of watershed health, seven metrics describing the vulnerability of Wisconsin watersheds to future climate, land use and water use change were selected and quantified for catchments in WDNR’s hydrography database throughout the state. Vulnerability metrics were combined into a Watershed Vulnerability Index and index scores were mapped to further prioritize protection of watersheds that are healthy but vulnerable to future degradation.

Great Lakes Aquatic Gap Project The goal of the Aquatic GAP Analysis Program is to keep common species common by identifying those species and communities that are not adequately represented in existing conservation areas or management plan. The Gap Analysis Program (GAP) is sponsored by the Biological Resources Discipline of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The USGS is working with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WNDR) and other cooperators to develop an ecological stream classification for Wisconsin streams and develop a database for fish species distributions and community data. The ecological stream classification is being developed based on physical characteristics that describe stream geology, geomorphology, temperature and flow using a valley segment classification approach.

Bay-Lake Regional Planning Commission Environmental Corridors The Bay-Lake Regional Planning Commission (Bay-Lake RPC) was created in April 1972 as the official area-wide planning agency for northeastern Wisconsin. Bay-Lake RPC identified a need to delineate environmental corridors based on a standard set of digital data. Environmental corridors refer to an interconnected green space network of natural areas and features, public lands, and other open spaces that provide natural resource value. Environmental corridor planning promotes a systematic and strategic approach to land conservation and encourages land-use planning and practices that are good for both nature and people. It provides a framework to guide future growth, land development and land conservation decisions that accommodate population growth and protect community and natural resources assets.

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