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Watershed Planning & Management

Schematic of a watershed. Photo Credit: Berks County, PA: Watershed ProgramA watershed is the geographic area where all water running off the land drains to a given stream, river, lake, wetland or coastal water. Watershed planning and management comprise an approach to protecting water quality and quantity that focuses on the entire ecosystem of a watershed.

Watershed planning and management involve a number of activities, including targeting priority problems in a watershed, promoting a high level of involvement by interested and affected parties, developing solutions to problems through the use of the expertise and authority of multiple agencies and organizations, and measuring success through monitoring and other data gathering.


What is a Watershed Plan?

A watershed plan is a document for the management of water, land/water interactions, aquatic and terrestrial life, and resources. It is often initiated either by local municipalities or conservation authorities who recognize either an existing or potential deterioration of the environment or resources. The goal of a watershed plan is to protect, enhance, and rehabilitate water resources in relation to existing or changing land use. It provides management goals, objectives, control targets, and environmental constraints, and this information should be integrated with land use or rehabilitation planning decisions.

Land Use Change

sprawlCompOne of the driving forces for water management planning is development pressure. In order to allow sustainable growth in any municipalities, it is important to develop water management plans so future development can be allowed without significant harm to the environment. In assessing ecosystem system response to urbanization, the most logical planning boundary is the watershed.

Important Watershed Planning Aspects

The whole watershed planning process should involve the public and stakeholders in every step so the final watershed plan can be acceptable to most people in the watershed. To maximize the overall achievement of a watershed plan, a number of different objectives relating to water quantity and quality, ecological health, sustainable development, and socio-economic enhancement may need to be considered during the planning process. Some of these objectives may be complementary or competitive. Thus, some compromises and tradeoffs may be necessary to find the best water management policies and strategies.

Watershed Planning Resources

EPA Watershed Planning and Plan Builder Tool
This site provides information and tools developed by EPA to assist with the development and implementation of effective watershed management plans. It is designed for people who are involved in watershed management activities.

EPA Handbook for Developing Watershed Plans to Restore and Protect Our Waters
This handbook is intended to help communities, watershed organizations, and state, local, tribal and federal environmental agencies develop and implement watershed plans to meet water quality standards and protect water resources.

EPA Watershed Central
This site is designed to provide state, local, and voluntary watershed management entities with a variety of tools and information (such as funding and training resources) that will aide in successful watershed management.

Online Seminars, Training, and Webcasts

Example Watershed Ordinances

Articles and Papers on Watershed Protection Planning

NYC Watershed Information

Additional Resources

Center for Watershed Protection
The Center for Watershed Protection works to protect, restore, and enhance our streams, rivers, lakes, wetlands, and bays. The CWP creates viable solutions and partnerships for responsible land and water management so that every community has clean water and healthy natural resources to sustain diverse life.

Stormwater Managers Resource Center
The Stormwater Manager's Resource Center is designed specifically for stormwater practitioners, local government officials and others that need technical assistance on stormwater management issues. Created and maintained by the Center for Watershed Protection, the SMRC has everything you need to know about stormwater in a single site.

Low Impact Development Center
The Low Impact Development Center is a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of Low Impact Development technology. Low Impact Development is a new, comprehensive land planning and engineering design approach with a goal of maintaining and enhancing the pre-development hydrologic regime of urban and developing watersheds.