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Vision and Purpose of the Southeast New England Coastal Watershed Restoration Program

Program Vision

The Program's vision is to restore the ecological health of southeast New England's estuaries, watersheds, and coastal waters and ensure access now and in the future to resilient, self-sustaining ecosystems of clean water, healthy diverse habitats, and associated populations of fish, shellfish, and other aquatic dependent organisms.

Building a Bi-State Program

The coastal areas of Southeast New England occupy a unique ecological niche classified by EPA as Level IV ecoregions of Southeast New England Coastal Plains and Hills and Atlantic Coastal Pine Barrens. In order to protect these special resources and the valuable services they provide to the region's coastal communities, the Program recognizes the need to address threatened habitat and degraded waters, as well as to protect healthy watersheds from future threats they may encounter.

There are many federal, state, local, and non-governmental entities currently working to restore habitat and improve water quality across the region. However, there have been limited opportunities for bi-state coordination and collaborative restoration planning on a regional scale. By working together, the Program will strategically direct resources to visible, high-impact projects that will increase the efficiency of regional restoration efforts, enhance the impact of local restoration projects, and limit unnecessary duplication of efforts. The Program leverages financial resources and builds on members' past successes to achieve broad restoration objectives across the region. Thus, the Program represents an opportunity for increasing returns to scale and extending the impact of individual projects by creating shared templates for integrated restoration projects.

Course of Action

The program is a unified partnership between private and public interests that serves as the focal point in this geographic region for developing a coordinated strategy and innovative approaches to sustainably restore the region's coastal ecosystems. The Program's desired objectives are to restore physical processes, improve water quality, and restore key habitat to the region's coastal waters. Traditionally, agencies and non-governmental organizations have addressed these problems separately, but the Program takes advantage of the opportunity to connect these ecological objectives by focusing on projects that increase the linkages between different types of restoration activities. The Program adopts a holistic, systems-based approach to restoration by incorporating a variety of integrated management approaches because the region faces a broad set of stressors and disturbances. These strategies include increasing regional collaboration and communication, integrating new technologies into restoration projects, and applying the latest scientific developments to management decisions at a watershed scale.

The challenges to restoration and the threats to ecosystem health are different in each watershed (or in each sub-watershed) across the region. For this reason, we developed a broad set of restoration strategies that can be tailored to address the key obstacles that prevent a local site from achieving self-sustaining restoration in the long term. These strategies include restoring connectivity, rebuilding natural hydrology, managing the impact of nutrients, reducing stormwater inputs, supporting the return of fish and wildlife, promoting fishable and swimmable uses of waterways, incorporating low-impact development, and integrating innovative technologies into restoration projects. By increasing the resilience of individual watersheds against future threats, these strategies also serve to increase the region's ability to withstand the impacts of climate change.

More broadly still, the project recognizes the need for a unifying set of objectives which must operate together in order to achieve the desired long-term sustainability. The project is developing a set of selection criteria to ensure that proposed restoration projects are evaluated holistically in the context of the three restoration objectives and that decisions support a more strategic investment of restoration resources, encouraging innovative solutions (technological, financial, policy, ecological) at a scale that benefits the region and watershed.