United States
          Environmental Protection
Office of Water
December 1991
4»EPA  The Watershed Protection Approach
          An Overview
                              • An Inteqrated, Holistic Approach •
                                               Printed on Recycled Paper


                 What  Is the
        Watershed  Protection
    State and Federal water protection programs have been
very successful in reversing or preventing degradation of
water quality throughout the country during the last 20
years. Much of this progress is due to nationwide regula-
tions limiting point source discharges by industrial and mu-
nicipal facilities. Many significant water quality challenges
remain, however, including difficult and controversial prob-
lems, such as pollutant runoff into waterways or seepage
into groundwaters from nonpoint sources and the destruc-
tion of wetlands and other vital habitats.
             What Is a Watershed?
    The term watershed, as used in the United States,
    refers to a geographic area in which water,
    sediments, and dissolved materials drain to a
    common outlet— a point on a larger stream, a • -. '
    lake, an underlying aquifer, an estuary, or an
    ocean.  This area is also called the drainage basin
    of the receiving water body.

    The Watershed Protection Approach described in
    this booklet does not require a particular definition
    of watershed. Local decisions on the scale of
    geographic unit consider many factors, including
    the ecological structure of the basin, the hydrologic
    factors  of underlying ground waters, the economic
    uses, the type and scope of pollution problems,
    and the level of resources available for protection
    and restoration projects.
    Uniform Federal regulation of these problems would be
vastly expensive, and would impinge on traditional State and
local prerogatives, such as land use and economic develop-
ment.  Governments at all levels, therefore, are broadening
their outlook on water quality protection, seeking noncon-
ventional, cost-effective ways to address the remaining
problems.  Experience and common sense both point to-
ward approaches that get "the biggest bang for the buck"
by singling out the most threatened locales for coordinated
action by all interested parties.

    This document describes efforts within the U.S. Envi-
ronmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other State, Fed-
eral, and local agencies to refocus existing water pollution
control programs to operate in a more comprehensive and
coordinated manner. The concepts described in this docu-
ment are not new and have been applied to a limited extent
in the past. There is, however, a growing consensus that the
pollution and habitat degradation problems now facing soci-
ety can best be solved by following a basin-wide approach
that takes into account the dynamic relationships that sustain
natural resources and their beneficial uses. EPA uses the
term Watershed Protection Approach to encompass these
    Targeted, Cooperative, Integrated Action

     The Watershed Protection Approach is built on three
main principles. First, the target watersheds should be those
where pollution poses the greatest risk to human health,
ecological resources, desirable uses of the water, or a com-
bination of these. Second, all parties with a stake in the
specific local situation should participate in the analysis of
problems and the creation of solutions. Third, the actions
undertaken should draw on the full range of methods and
tools available, integrating them into a coordinated, multior-
ganization attack on the problems.

    The diagram on the next page illustrates the intercon-
nection of these three key elements — risk-based targeting,
stakeholder involvement, and integrated solutions.
    An Emerging Framework

    The Watershed Protection Approach is not a new
centralized government program that competes with or
replaces existing programs. It is a flexible framework for
focusing and integrating current efforts and for exploring
innovative methods to achieve maximum efficiency and
effect. This framework is derived from the experience
gained over the last few years in many States and in
collaborative activities, such as the National Estuary
Program and the Clean Lakes Program. As experience
grows and techniques evolve, this holistic, locally tailored
approach gradually will become — indeed, must become —
a routine process for protecting and restoring water quality.

              Elements of the Watershed  Protection  Approach
Potential participants in watershed
protection projects include

State environmental, public health, agricultural,
   and natural resources agencies
Local/regional boards, commissions, and
EPA water and other programs
Other Federal agencies
Indian tribes
Public representatives
Private wildlife and conservation organizations
Industry sector representatives
Academic community.

Manmade pollution and
natural processes pose risks
to human health or the
environment, or both, in
many water body systems.
The highest-risk watersheds
are identified and one or
more are selected for
cooperative, integrated
assessment and protection.
Problems that may pose health or ecological
risks in a watershed include

Industrial wastewater discharges
Municipal wastewater, stormwater, and
  combined sewer overflows
Waste dumping and injection
Nonpoint source runoff or seepage
Accidental leaks and spills of toxic substances
Atmospheric deposition
Habitat alteration, including wetlands loss
Flow variations.

                       Working as a task force,
                       stakeholders reach consensus
                       on goals and approaches for
                       addressing a watershed's
                       problems, the specific
                       actions to be taken, and how
                       they will be coordinated and

                         The selected tools are
                         applied to the watershed's
                         problems, according to the
                         plans and roles established
                         through stakeholder
                         consensus. Progress is
                         evaluated periodically via
                         ecological indicators and
                         other measures.
                                       Coordinated action may be taken in such areas as

                                       Voluntary source reduction programs
                                         (e.g., waste minimization, BMPs)
                                       Permit issuance and enforcement programs
                                       Standard setting and enforcement programs
                                       Direct financing
                                       Economic incentives
                                       Education and information dissemination
                                       Technical assistance
                                       Remediation of contaminated soil or water
                                       Emergency response to accidental leaks or spills.

                  What Is a
       Watershed Protection
    Numerous projects using the Watershed Protection
Approach have been implemented, and many more are in
various stages of planning. These activities were not
mandated by EPA or any other central agency; they have
arisen spontaneously as the most effective way to address
pressing local or regional problems. While they differ
widely in their objectives and methods, watershed protec-
tion projects have several characteristics in common that
distinguish them from conventional water quality

    • They are discrete activities, often structured as a task
      force or work group, spearheaded by a State agency,
      an EPA regional office, or another authoritative
      environmental management organization.

    • They encompass all or most of the landscape in a
      well-defined watershed or other ecological, physi-
      ographic, or hydrologic unit, such as an embayment,
      an aquifer, or a mountain valley.

    • They provide a well-structured opportunity for
      meaningful participation by State, Federal, tribal,
      county, municipal and other government agencies, as
      well as private landowners, industry representatives,
      other interested parties, as well as the general public.

    • They identify the most significant threats to water
      quality, based on a comparative risk analysis of the
      human health, ecological, and economic impacts,
      and they target resources toward these high-risk

    • They establish well-defined goals and objectives for
      the watershed, including objectives for:

        - Chemical water quality ("conventional pollut-
         ants" and toxics)

        - Physical water quality (e.g., temperature, flow,
        - Habitat quality (e.g., channel morphology, com-
         position, and health of biotic communities)

        - Biodiversity (e.g., species number, range).

    •  They devise and implement an integrated action
      agenda for achieving the objectives, incorporating all
      appropriate authorities and techniques (e.g., permit
      reissuance, education programs).

    The box below and those on the next page describe
some recent watershed protection projects, which were initi-
ated at various levels of government.
             The Wlerrimack River
        Watershed Protection Project
         Federal and Interstate Commission
 The Merrifnack River is New England's largest river-
 based source of drinking water, serving more than a
 "quarter million people. The watershed and river
 system face increasing multiuse demands for water
"supply, waste assimilation, hydropower generation,
 wildlife habitat,^and flood control. Recreational use is
 also expected to increase dramatically during the
 1990s. Wastewater discharges, toxic contaminants,
-find'wetlands loss are among the threats to long-term
 water quality and ecological integrity.
' In 1988, EPA's Region I office in Boston, the States of
„ Massachusetts and New Hampshire, and the New
• England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission
- began an initiative to improve and protect water quality
 in the Merrimack system, enabling it to support multiple
 uses. Joined by regional planning agencies, the (J.S.
, Geological Survey, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,
/the U.S. National Park Service, and the U.S. Army
 (Dorps of Engineers, the work group developed an
 action plan for collective, focused effort,
 Accomplishments to date include greater emphasis oh
 enforcement of water'quality requirements and on
" larg'eting of river segments for concerted action.
 Planned activities for coming years include managing
^ existing pollution sources, conducting water supply
 planning, and enhancing data management and
 transfer among agencies.

  Watershed  Protection Projects Initiated at Various Levels
      The Stillaguamish Watershed
             Protection Project

The Stillaguamish Watershed in Washington State is a
significant source of nonpoint source pollution to Puget
Sound. The principal pollutants are bacteria from
livestock wastes and onsite sewage disposal systems
and sediment runoff from forests, farms, and develop-
ment sites. Partially because of these pollutants,
shellfish beds in Port Susan have been declared
unsafe for commercial harvest.

The Tulalip and Stillaguamish Tribes nominated the
watershed to the Washington Department of Ecology
for planning efforts. With a grant from the State agency,
a Watershed Management Committee (WMC) was
formed in 1988 to develop an action plan.  The group
contained representatives from the Tulalip and
Stillaguamish Tribes, county and city governments,
environmental and business interest groups, and
homeowners and citizens' organizations. State and
Federal environmental regulators participated via a
technical  advisory committee.

The Stillaguamish Watershed Action Plan, completed
In 1989, consists of five source control programs, a
public education program, and a monitoring program.
WMC recommendations include developing farm
conservation plans, reducing improper disposal of
human waste, preventing urban runoff, and sampling
on a regular basis to track water quality trends.
      The Colorado River Watershed
          Salinity Control Project

Salinity is recognized as the major water quality
problem in the Colorado River Basin. Changes in
salinity can result from both natural processes and
human activities. Virtually any water or land use can
affect the river's salinity, including irrigation return flows
and land use disturbances, which cause salt loading,
and diversion of high-quality water, which causes
increased salt concentration. The salt adversely affects
household, agricultural, and industrial uses of more
than 18 million people and affects more than 1 million
acres of irrigated farmland. Economic damages,
primarily to California, Arizona, and Nevada, are
.estimated to average $311 million pr more annually.

In 1972, the seven Basin States voluntarily formed the
Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Forum to develop
and oversee implementation of salinity control stan-
dards. EPA Regions VI, VIII, and JX are also involved.

This initiative has achieved signficant progress. The
basin States, acting through the forum, developed and
adopted salinity control standards in 1975, which EPA
approved. The States were also successful in getting
the Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Act passed in
1974 and amended in 1984,  In addition, the forum has.
been effective in securing Federal funding for salinity
control in the Colorado River Watershed.
                      The Canaan Valley Watershed  Protection Project
The Canaan Valley in West Virginia, designated as a
National Natural Landmark in 1975, encompasses a
fragile wetlands complex containing a unique boreal
ecosystem. The Blackwater River, originating in the
wetlands at the valley's southern end, is an important
source of drinking water and the largest stream complex
in the State with a self-sustaining brown trout population.

The valley is subject to numerous threats from nonpoint
source pollution, development, mining, and other
sources. Recognizing that these mounting threats
could harm the valley's ecological resources irrevoca-
bly, EPA's Region III office in Philadelphia organized
the Canaan Valley Task Force in 1989 to develop  and
implement a protection strategy. The task force
includes representatives from EPA, the .U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the
West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, county
government bodies, landowner associations, environ-
mental interest groups, development interest organiza-
tions, and the general public.

An early accomplishment of the Canaan Valley Task
Force is the Corps of Engineers' suspension of Nation-
wide Permits for wetlands use in the valley. Work has
begun on wetlands surveillance and enforcement,
public outreach, and wetlands identification. The group
has also provided a forum for discussing a National
Wildlife Refuge proposal and the county commission's
master plan for Tucker County.

                 What  Is  a
       Watershed  Protection
    Several State agencies and EPA regional offices
recently took steps to institutionalize the Watershed Protec-
tion Approach as a cornerstone of their water quality man-
agement activities. Anticipating that they will undertake
more and more watershed protection projects, these organi-
zations have devised well thought-out frameworks to guide
them. Such frameworks provide essential structure for the
systematic watershed protection programs emerging around
the country.

    Circumstances vary widely, of course, and there is no
simple prescription for a program structure that will meet
every organization's needs.  The following three compo-
nents are important to all frameworks, however:

    •  Well-defined goals and objectives for the ongoing

    •  A set of criteria for selecting high-priority watersheds

    •  A flexible process for planning and implementing
      the watershed protection measures.

    A closer look at two fledgling watershed protection
programs — an EPA regional office program and a State
program — illustrates how a detailed framework can be
built on this foundation. Federal, State, and local agencies
wishing to establish their own programs may find these
examples to be useful models.
    An EPA Regional Office Watershed Program
    In 1990, EPA's Region IV office began the Savannah
River Watershed Protection Project (see box). In designing
the approach for this specific project, EPA regional staff
also established the general process (the program basis) that
they will use when applying the watershed protection ap-
proach more widely in the future. The program has the
following six basic objectives:

    •  Identify critical watersheds, with EPA and State
      participation, based on known problems and use
      Define clearly the problems, general causes, and
      specific sources of water body use impairment and
      risks to human and ecological health in each selected

      Develop potential pollution prevention and control
      strategies, including determining total maximum
      daily loads where appropriate

      Implement point source and nonpoint source controls

      Develop scientifically valid indicators (i.e., practical
      measures for gauging the risks in a watershed and the
      progress in reducing them)

      Develop ecological criteria that States may use in
      formulating standards for ecology-based pollution
      prevention and control.
 if  «        The Savannah River
        Watershed Protection Project
 Numerous water quality problems have been detected
^ j[n the Savannah River and its estuary, much of which
 forms the border between Georgia and South Carolina.
 ^ For example, dioxin and PCBs have been found in fish
 in the river and the estuary.  In addition, upstream
 wastewater discharges and a tjde gate in the estuary
 are affecting salinity, toxicity, and dissolved oxygen
 In 1990, EPA's Region IV office in Atlanta initiated a
 project to examine all of the threats to trie Savannah
 Miyer and to develop an interagency action plan.
 Georgia and South Carolina State agencies, city and
, county representatives from  Savannah, the U.S. Army
 Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,
*"and local environmental action groups will probably
 participate in assessment and planning activities.
^.Several existing activities may be incorporated or
"expanded into an integrated watershed protection
\ project, including State/EPA data collection and
 modeling to support development of total maximum
 daily loads, wetlands evaluation by the U.S. Corps of
 Engineers, and the environmental impact statement
 being prepared for the Corps' tide gate and harbor
 deepening projects.

    Establishing watershed selection criteria is a prerequi-
site for accomplishing the first objective. The EPA Region
IV office plans to use the following eight criteria to identify
the highest-priority watersheds:

    • Magnitude of risks to human and ecological health

    • Possibility of additional environmental degradation if
      no action is taken

    • Feasibility of implementing corrective or protective
      measures in the watershed

    • Likelihood of achieving demonstrable results

    • Value of the watershed to the public
                                                       •  Extent of alliances needed between EPA, States, and
                                                          other agencies to coordinate actions and resources

                                                       •  Degree to which information on watershed
                                                          conditions is readily available or can be obtained

                                                       •  Level of EPA resources required.

                                                       When the decision is made to embark on a new water-
                                                    shed protection project, the Region IV office will follow a
                                                    predefined series of steps to organize and conduct the initia-
                                                    tive. Their generic process, which can be tailored to meet
                                                    the needs of a particular project, is outlined below.
                        The EPA Region IV Watershed Protection Process
    Designate a Coordinator for the project. The
    Coordinator is the project's "champion" withjn
    the regional office and its day-to-day facilitator.

    Write a brief description of the watershed,
    including a preliminary list of environmental
    problems, based on available information.

    Delineate the project's preliminary scope and
    goals clearly.

    Form an EPA watershed team containing a
    representative from each program that has an
    active role in environmental management in the
    watershed. This team will coordinate EPA
    programs during the project.

5.  Assemble and evaluate available information on
    the extent and causes of water body use
    impairment and the risks to human health and
    the environment.

6.  Form an interagency watershed coordinating
    committee containing appropriate technical and
    management representatives from key govern-
    ment agencies (State, regional, and local),
    industries, and citizens groups. This committee
    will facilitate communication among the groups
    involved in watershed management and will help
    develop and implement the watershed protection

7.  Hold regular meetings of the EPA watershed
    team and the interagency coordinating commit-
    tee to identify issues, discuss solutions, build
    consensus, and obtain commitments for action.
8.   Identify all EPA and non-EPA activities and key
    participants that are involved with environmen-
    tal problems in the watershed. Identify major
    milestones in each of these existing activities.

9.   Develop a Watershed Management Plan that

    •   Identifies the highest-priority problems, as
       determined by consensus of the participants

    •   Specifies total maximum daily loads and
       other water quality-based control approaches

    •   Describes specific actions to address
       problems and identifies who will  take these

    •   Specifies problems or issues that require
       additional data gathering and analysis

    •   Identifies opportunities for cooperative efforts

    •   Delineates ways to leverage resource^

    •   Sets priorities for the EPA programs with
       regard to the watershed.

10. Support further characterization of the
    watershed's problems or the potential solutions,
    as resources allow.

11. Implement the corrective; actions identified in
    the strategy.

12. Develop environmental indicators that, through
    monitoring, will be used to measure the suc-
    cess of the corrective actions.

    A State Watershed Protection Program

    Some States also are moving rapidly toward integrated
watershed management. North Carolina's Division of
Environmental Management (NCDEM) Water Quality Sec-
tion, for example, has outlined an ambitious plan to make
basins, not stream reaches, the unit of water quality man-
agement in the State. NCDEM's Basinwide Water Quality
Management Initiative objectives include the following:

    •  Identify priority problem areas and sources (both
      point and nonpoint) that merit particular pollutant
      control and enforcement efforts or modification of
      regulations or statutes

    •  Determine the optimal water quality management
      strategy and distribution of assimilative capacity for
      each of the 17 major river basins within the State

    •  Produce comprehensive basinwide management
      plans that communicate to policymakers and the
      general public NCDEM's rationale, approaches, and
      long-term management strategies for each basin

    •  Implement innovative management approaches that
      protect North Carolina's surface water quality, en-
      courage the equitable distribution of assimilative
      capacity, and allow for sound economic planning
      and growth.

    The whole-basin initiative is envisioned as a fully
integrated approach to water quality assessment and man-
agement, .incorporating monitoring, modeling, point source
and nonpoint source controls, and enforcement.  NCDEM
has akeady rescheduled its NPDES permit activities so that
renewals within a given basin will now occur simulta-
neously and will be repeated at 5-year intervals.

    Because the program intends to address each of the 17
basins over the next 5 years, the targeting step involved
prioritizing the full list of problem areas rather than identi-
fying just the most critical cases. NCDEM's criteria for
scheduling the basins included the nature and magnitude of
known problems, a basin's importance in terms of human
use, the availability of data providing a base for modeling,
and staff workload balancing.

    For each basin in turn, North Carolina will perform the
15-step process outlined at the right. Depending on the
basin and its problems, other organizations will be invited to
participate in problem identification and basin management
planning. The NCDEM Water Quality Section has better
coordinated staff duties for greater efficiency in whole-
basin planning. In 1991, NCDEM assembled existing data
for the first basin and began basin-level water quality mod-
eling in preparation for permit renewals scheduled for 1993.

 -.  15.
f  North Carolina's Whole-Basin
         Protection Process

 Compife all existing relevant information on basin
 characteristics and" water quality.
 D,eJ|rjeJ:he water^quality goals and objectives for
 water .bodies within the basin. (Revise as neces-
 sary as more data are gathered and analyzed.)
 Identify the critical issues (e.g., water supply
 protection) and current water quality problems
twithinjtie basjJi andlrTe major factors (point and
"non-point sources) that contribute to these
 problems or concerns.
 Prioritize the basin's water quality concerns and
 critical issues,jn consultation with other govern-
,me|j| agencies and appropriate nongovernment
 Define the subbasin management units, consider-
 ing basin hydrology, physiographic boundaries,
 "problem areas, and critical issues.
 Identify needs for additional data.
 Collect additional data as appropriate.
 Analyze, integrate, and interpret the data col-
 lected. Revisit Steps 2  through 5 in light of the
 new information.
 determine ancLevaluateJhe management options
 fqr_each management unit in the basin.
 Select final management approaches for the
 basin and targeted subbasins.
 Complete the draft Whole-Basin Management
. Plan. Perform additional modeling analyses if
 necessary to finalize the wasteload allocations.
 Distribute the draft plan for review and comment
 from the Environmental Management Commis-
 sion (EMC) and arrange for a public hearing.
 Revise^the plan as appropriate in response to
.jcornments,and obtain final EMC approval.
 fmplement the management approaches,
 including point and nonpoint source control
 Monitor the program's success and update the
 plan every 5 years.

            What Role Does
           EPA Headquarters
    EPA's Office of Water wishes to encourage and
advance the Watershed Protection Approach at all levels of
government. The Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Water-
sheds (OWOW) is the Office of Water's focal point for pro-
moting collaboration among EPA programs and for coordi-
nating technical support to EPA regional offices and other
organizations in pursuing their watershed protection objec-
    Technical Tools and Assistance

    The Office of Water (OW) is continuing and reorienting
its traditional role of developing water quality standards and
techniques and guidance for their application. In addition to
refining health-oriented criteria for point source controls, the
office is placing more emphasis on ecological protection
tools and on standards for nonpoint source control. As wa-
tershed protection programs evolve and mature, OW will
initiate and coordinate tool development and technical assis-
tance in many areas of direct use to the participating organi-
zations, including the following:

    • Numeric ecological criteria that States can use in
      adopting standards for ecology-based pollution
      prevention and control programs

    • Assessment and problem diagnosis methods includ-
      ing models for calculating water quality-based

    • Methods for watershed characterization

    • Environmental indicators that best reflect the
      ecological integrity of ecosystems and the effective-
      ness of protection activities

    • Technical assistance to States in implementing tech-
      nology-based best management practices for
      nonpoint sources

    • New or refined monitoring methods, including
      biological monitoring techniques.
    Information Transfer

    The success of the Watershed Protection Approach
depends on the exchange of experiences, ideas, techniques,
and results among Federal, State, and local agencies, as
well as others involved in water quality management.  OW
seeks to foster this interchange by disseminating descriptive
and technical information pertaining to the Watershed Pro-
tection Approach, facilitating technology transfer, conduct-
ing a public information campaign, providing liaison and
high-level negotiation with other Federal agencies, and
encouraging cross-program team building  at EPA Head-

    Most resource support for watershed protection
projects comes from budget reallocations in EPA regional
offices and in State agencies, taking advantage of local effi-
ciencies and national priority shifts. OW works within
EPA's budgeting process to give the regional offices the
flexibility to reorient a portion of their resources toward
identifying and focusing on the watersheds of greatest con-
cern. At the same time, OW is redirecting its own re-
sources to devote a larger share to activities that support the
Watershed Protection Approach. Some potential funding
sources are listed in the box below.
    Potential EPA Sources of Resources
    , foj:3A(atejshed Prot§cjjon Projects
                              t ~
                 Section 106 Grants
    jr*       ff       ,      &  til 1             e
    f"          '            ,,» k'
               Section 604(b) Grants
               '  Seqtion314Grants
             '"" '^Section 319 Grants
        Wastewatef'Permits Program (NPDES)
             Weflands Protectior} Grants
         '  '    State Revolting Funds
      '"'" '*  National Estuary Program
       ' - - l^ear Coastal VVaters Program
      *' ~  ~"'s   ,   -.    '•    }',,r  ''

For more information on the Watershed Protection Approach,


                 Policy and Communications Staff
             Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watersheds
               U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
                      401 M Street, SW
                    Washington, DC 20460
         •  An Integrated, Holistic Approach •

 United States
 Environmental Protection Agency
 Washington, DC 20460

 Official Business
 Penalty for Private Use