Many factors are converging to cause citizens, scientists, resource managers, and government decisionmakers to look increasingly to watershed management as an approach for addressing a wide range of water-related problems. Managing water resources at the watershed scale, while difficult, offers the potential of balancing the many, sometimes competing, demands we place on water resources. The watershed approach acknowledges linkages between uplands and downstream areas, and between surface and ground water, and reduces the chances that attempts to solve problems in one realm will cause problems in others. Watershed management is an integrative way of thinking about all the various human activities that occur on a given area of land (the watershed) that have effects on, or affected by, water. With this perspective, we can plan long-term, sustainable solutions to many natural resource problems. We can find a better balance between meeting today's needs and leaving a sound resource legacy for generations to come.
Management of water and related resources based on a regional perspective is not a new concept., but as the 21st century approaches it has taken on added importance for America's watersheds. National goals of vibrant economic development with simultaneous progress in environmental restoration and preservation emphasize the need to bring together the public, decisionmakers, and scientists in effective strategies. The attainment of these goals is not mutually exclusive, but can be assured only with the integration of ecological, social, and economic approaches to environmental management problems. At the same time, the reinvention of the federal government, with continuing devolution of authority to state and local authorities, demands a more effective integration of admin-
istrative levels. Watershed management is one method for addressing these needs for integration.
Government and private sponsors gave the National Research Council's Committee on Watershed Management three tasks: investigate the present state of knowledge about watershed management, investigate representative examples of the application of the approach, and identify barriers to successful implementation of such approaches and means for overcoming them. The committee pursued its work based on the idea that watersheds of all sizes, ranging from small local drainages to large river basins, were part of the charge. The committee's activities included much research as well as efforts to talk to people involved in watershed initiatives at all levels, from large, regional planning approaches to small, local projects. We held meetings or workshops in Washington, D.C.; Tennessee; California; and Minnesota; and met in total five times over our two-year study to deliberate and write this report. The committee hopes this effort will be of value to a wide range of potential users, including watershed managers from local to national levels, researchers, Congress,' and the executive agencies of the federal government.
Watersheds As A Basis For Planning And Management
Watersheds are defined by the "waterscape," the combination of the hydrology and topography of the landscape, and they are ubiquitous units that can be seen as the physical foundation of the nation. The U.S. Geological Survey provides a standardized definition of regions and watersheds that subdivides the nation into hydrologic units averaging about 700 square miles. These units provide a common basis of discussion for the public, planners, decisionmakers, and scientists who deal with water-related issues. Although social and economic data are not collected with respect to these natural boundaries, modem geographic information systems allow reformulating of diverse data sets into common frameworks. This tool increasingly allows managers to use ecological, social, and economic data in concert.
The environmental, social, and economic diversity of the United States dictates that one standard solution is unlikely to be useful in all parts of the country. A huge range of environments occurs between the humid east coast and the progressively dry mid-continent area, between the well-watered Pacific northwest and the arid southwest. Population densities range from the crowded northeast to the sparsely settled intermountain regions. Regional variations in wealth are substantial. Any well-designed national policy for watershed management must maintain great flexibility to accommodate these natural and human variations and allow significant local control and input to decisions.
Governmental attempts at watershed management have been ongoing in the United States for more than half a century, but the science of watershed management is still evolving and many of our current activities are, in essence, experi-
ments. As a result, many of the models that link data to concepts in a way that might be useful to managers are not effective. Technology that takes advantage of modem advances in geographic information systems and decision support systems are poorly developed at present. The collection of basic environmental data describing the changing conditions of watersheds is in jeopardy as agencies react to shrinking budgets by eliminating monitoring sites for the hydrologic system. Risk and uncertainty must be adequately accounted for in planning and predictive models. Watershed science in general has yet to develop an effective interface between what we know and how we use that knowledge. Good science is not enough; we need useful science. Watershed management without significant input of new scientific understanding, especially understanding of watershed processes and of the human dimensions, is doomed to inefficiency and eventual loss of credibility; research without input from involved stakeholders and those with real management acumen will always prove less than useful. In the end, watershed management is both institutionally and scientifically complex, and thus inherently difficult to implement.
During most of the mid- to late-20th century, watershed management has been a top-down process, but this approach has led to numerous barriers to effective citizen involvement and to use of locally developed knowledge. A truly effective watershed management effort is most likely to be a bottom-up process, driven largely by citizen concerns about local or regional problems and guided by sound data and information. Successful collaborative planning requires broad participation by those likely to be affected by the outcome. Sometimes these stakeholders are beyond the physical boundaries of the watershed or river basin in question, so that a "problemshed" must be accounted for. In a successful process, 'scientific analysis is married with public participation, ensuring that decisions based on cultural values are informed decisions with respect to likely consequences and a clear understanding of who benefits and who pays.
Organizations for watershed management are most likely to be effective if their structure matches the scale of the problem. Individual local issues related to site planning, for example, should be the purview of local self-organized watershed councils, while larger organizations should deal with broader issues. These larger organizations, however, must include the nested smaller watershed groups within their areas of interest, and must account for downstream interests. A major barrier to effective watershed management for large basins in the past has been limitations on the transfer of powers. The various levels of government in the United States developed historically with specific authorities and powers, and most governmental entities are unlikely to give up those powers to some larger all-encompassing organization. In addition, large federal agencies defined by their topical missions (flood control for the Army Corps of Engineers and water management and delivery for the Bureau of Reclamation) are antithetical to over-arching regional organization. Partnerships among levels of government and various agencies are required for effective watershed management. The era of a
large, dominant federal government must give way to an era of flexible federalism where the federal government maintains a role but allows state and local governments to assume substantial rights and responsibilities for watershed management.
Funding for watershed management and science is a continuing problem. Much of the funding for single-purpose watershed efforts, such as control of point source pollution, comes from single purpose agencies, such as a wastewater management district. Because most watersheds are administered under a complex institutional structure, new broadly based funding sources are needed. Potential sources include revenues from hydropower production and user charges for water supply, flood control, recreation, and other uses. These users may be expected to resist increased costs to provide for watershed management, but governments at all levels must ensure that those who benefit from watershed products or services also support the management of the systems. Pricing structures at or near market values may create new revenue sources of this type. The creation of some stable mechanism, such as a revenue-sharing strategy or trust fund, could ensure that there is a way for the federal government to contribute to and encourage watershed management partnerships. In the area of science, reallocation of existing funds from general programs to highly targeted programs can benefit watershed research.
The chapters of this report provide greater detail on many discussions of how implementation of watershed approaches might be improved, from areas where our scientific understanding is lacking to planning and decisionmaking. Ultimately, the Committee on Watershed Management reached conclusions that are described briefly below, supported in greater detail in the chapters, and summarized in Chapter 9. Here we comment specifically on the reauthorization of the Clean Water Act as a key way to improve implementation of watershed management in the United States. We then offer conclusions addressing a range of issues connected to integrating ecological, social, and economic approaches to watershed management.
Reauthorization Of The Clean Water Act
Congress and the President have an historic opportunity to enhance sustainability of resources and the economy through improved watershed management by reauthorizing the Clean Water Act. The original Act and its revisions brought about improved control of point sources of pollution, resulting in impressive improvements in water quality for many streams. However, other waterways, including some of the nation's most important rivers, continue to degrade because of nonpoint source pollution. Such pollution is by its nature "area-based" or regional, so that its control is likely to be watershed-based. Many rivers and watersheds are fragmented physically by dams, while the administration of these systems is also fragmented among sometimes competing agencies and levels of
government. Science is also fragmented by a continuing trend to compartmentalize knowledge and to emphasize analysis rather than synthesis.
Integrated thinking must be articulated in the reauthorized Clean Water Act. The Act should allow bottom-up development of watershed agencies that respond to local problems rather than having a rigid institutional structure imposed upon them from the federal level. The reauthorized Act can empower watershed managers at the local and regional levels to consolidate their authorities on a watershed basis, an approach that can increase efficiency and control costs. In management, the Act must recognize that all components of the waterscape are connected and must be managed together, along with their related social and economic considerations. For example, the language of the Act must explicitly link drinking water, ground water, and surface water, just as they are linked in physical reality. The Act must also not avoid the thorny issue of funding, but rather undertake the difficult task of ensuring that those who benefit from watershed products and services also bear the cost. The Clean Water Act should be a visionary statement that gives national emphasis to the conservation and enhancement of watersheds because of the many important functions and values they provide, and it should give authority to the relevant agencies for implementing that goal.
In addition to stressing the importance of revising and reauthorizing the Clean Water Act, the committee offers the following thoughts about other mechanisms to steer the nation toward improved strategies for watershed management. These conclusions address the basic guiding philosophy, management processes, research, and support functions.
- Watersheds as geographic areas are optimal organizing units for dealing with the management of water and closely related resources, but the natural boundaries of watersheds rarely coincide with political jurisdictions and thus they are less useful for political, institutional, and funding purposes. Initiatives and organizations directed at watershed management should be flexible to reflect the reality of these situations. (For more information, see Chapters 2, 6, and 8.)
- Specific watershed problems must be approached in distinctive ways, and determining the appropriate scale for the resolution of any problem is an essential first step. Both the structure of watershed management organizations and the nature of the activities undertaken should be matched to the scale of the watershed. The range of stakeholders varies with scale and must be clearly defined so that the costs and benefits associated with any plan are fully taken into account.
- Watershed approaches are easiest to implement at the local level; they can be most difficult to implement at large scales where the political, institutional, and funding decisionmaking grows especially complex. (For more information, see Chapters 2, 6, and 8.)
- Risk and uncertainty are parts of the natural as well as institutional settings for watershed management, and they can limit the effectiveness of applying the watershed approach. One important need for advancing watershed management is to develop practical procedures for considering risk and uncertainty in real world decisionmaking. Scientists and managers should strive to educate the public by specifically outlining potential uncertainty so that expectations of research and decisionmaking are reasonable. (For more information, see Chapter 5.)
- Watershed management plans should be viewed as the starting point and not the end product 6f a management cycle. The cycle should include formulation of a problem statement, identification of an agreed-upon set of goals, identification of the scope of activities appropriate to the issue in question, negotiated action steps, implementation, feedback, evaluation, and appropriate adjustments made as a result of lessons learned (i.e., adaptive management). (For more information: See Chapter 8.)
- Scientific and technical peer review of watershed improvement activities conducted by qualified independent professionals can provide objective evaluations of their impact. Scientific or technical review groups can help design, carry out, and evaluate monitoring programs and help prioritize locations for intensive study. Such groups also can inform policymakers about the relative uncertainty associated with implementing management alternatives. (For more information, see Chapter 8.)
- For too long, agencies have viewed their polices and projects in isolation. In their normal course of work, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Environmental Protection Agency should examine the watershed-wide implications of their policies, programs, rules, and permitting processes to take into account the regional and downstream ecological, social, and economic consequences of their actions, rather than using a limited project-by-project approach. (For more information, see Chapter 8.)
- The committee was impressed with the information-gathering aspects of the Western Water Policy Review Advisory Commission. This kind of regionally based analysis of watershed resources provides a comprehensive evaluation
- of the current management of American watersheds and guidance for the future, and should be duplicated for other regions as a means of gathering information and evaluating the potential of the watershed approach. (For more information, see Chapter 8.)
- Watershed management seeks to develop careful, long-term solutions to problems and provide sustainable access to resources and thus it benefits the nation. The President and Congress should consider establishing some stable mechanism to fund the federal contribution to watershed management partner-ships, such as a revenue-sharing strategy or trust fund. This funding should be available to state? regional, and local organizations for research, planning, implementation, and ongoing peer evaluation of watershed initiatives. (For more information, see Chapter 7.)
- Because water is a strategic national resource and sustainable use of water resources is a national priority, watershed management decisions must be based on the best possible science. More research is needed to provide the data, knowledge, and technology necessary to support effective watershed management, especially work focused on integrating social, economic, and ecological elements. There is a special need for research and monitoring that is long-term and integrated across scales and timeframes, as well as for specific problem-solving research and theory and model development. One specific step to greatly improve scientific understanding of watersheds is for Congress to increase funding for the National Science Foundation in areas that can improve understanding of the human dimensions of watersheds. Moreover, new problems and challenges such as human alteration of watersheds, volatile world economies, and global climate change will require new and innovative centers of research excellence in watershed science and management, and more effective technology transfer and leadership, at scales ranging from local to regional. (For more information, see Chapters 4, 5 and 6.)
- Although our understanding of fundamental physical, biological, economic, and social processes needs improvement, an even greater need is improved understanding of how all these components operate together within watersheds. Watershed researchers should emphasize the integration of environmental, economic, and social perspectives, with more attention to the linkages and what they imply for management and overcoming barriers to implementation. Science and policy must function together for watershed management to be successful, so there also must be more attention to the role of politics in decisionmaking. (For more information,. see Chapter 5.)
- Process-oriented research is research that extends beyond description and measurement; it addresses structure, function, and the how and why of the processes operating within a watershed. Process-oriented research is particularly valuable because it leads to enhanced predictive capabilities, better understanding of cause-effect relationships, and a firmer foundation for planning and management. The National Science Foundation, Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and other federal agencies involved in process-oriented watershed research should reorient their efforts to close critical information gaps that hamper effective implementation of watershed management. Important gaps include:
- linkages among watershed components (rivers, wetlands, ground water, atmosphere, floodplains, upland areas);
- integration across disciplines (especially biophysical and social sciences);
- feedback among processes operating at different spatial and temporal scales;
- inexpensive, useful indicators of watershed conditions and quantitative methods to evaluate land use and watershed management practices;
- advanced watershed simulation models (especially models that link natural and social attributes) that are useful to and can be operated by managers who are not scientific experts; and
- understanding of risk and uncertainty in the decisionmaking process. (For more information, see Chapter 4.)
- A solid scientific foundation of basic and applied research is needed to provide the data, information, and tools necessary for effective implementation of watershed management activities. Federal resource management agencies should form partnerships with the National Science Foundation in jointly funded research, with agencies identifying critical areas needing investigation and NSF ensuring high quality, peer reviewed work in both short-term and long-term projects. Agencies might include the Forest Service, Bureau of Reclamation, Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, U.S. Geological Survey, and Tennessee Valley Authority. Universities and nongovernmental research organizations can be key partners in this process. (For more information, see Chapter 4.)
- The Federal Geographic Data Committee, as the organization charged with primary responsibility for establishing the National Spatial Data Infrastructure, should assume a leadership role in establishing a capability for collecting spatial data on watersheds by creating national data standards, designating a central clearinghouse, and maintaining a single national watershed database. Other
- federal agencies should be encouraged to coordinate efforts and electronically link related databases. (For more information, see Chapter 4.)
- Data collection efforts provide baseline information for increased scientific understanding of watershed processes, for analyses and interpretation of problems and causes, for assessing the status of watershed resources and detecting and predicting trends, and for decisionmaking in watershed management. Stream gagging and monitoring network design should emphasize adequate temporal resolution, sampling of storm events, measurement of appropriate ancillary hydrological and biogeochemical data (e.g., meteorological data with hydrological data or biological surveys with water quality parameters), and should use the highest possible quality of sampling and analysis. It is increasingly expensive to maintain data collection and monitoring efforts. As the U.S. Geological Survey, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and other federal and nonfederal organizations engaged in collecting watershed data evaluate their monitoring sites, they should prioritize the remaining sites to ensure continuation of sites that are most effective in helping managers understand water quality trends. Particular emphasis should go to maintaining sites with exceptionally long-term records. In some instances, monitoring sites should be retained to provide adequate geographic representation, while some geographic areas with dense coverage might lose some sites without loss of data. Sampling schemes should be designed to answer specific questions about the status and trends of watershed resources rather than simply collect broad-based data. (For more information, see Chapters 3 and 4.)
- Effective watershed management requires integration of theory, data, 'simulation models, and expert judgment to solve practical problems and provide a scientific basis for decisionmaking at the watershed scale. The engineering and scientific communities should develop better, more user-friendly decision support systems to help decisionmakers understand and evaluate alternative approaches. These improved approaches should help decisionmakers understand and convey the. concepts of risk and uncertainty. A decision support system is a suite of computer programs with components consisting of databases, simulation models, decision models, and user interfaces that assist a decisionmaker in evaluating the economic and environmental impacts of competing watershed management alternatives. One of the technical challenges in developing decision support system technology for watershed management is linking models for all of the components of an extremely complex system to estimate the effect of management alternatives on all of the criteria of interest. (For more information, see Chapters 5 and 8.)
Two recurrent themes appeared throughout the committee's deliberations. First, one overarching lesson from the nation's long history of interest in water-
shed management is that ''one size does not fit all." Watersheds in the United States reflect tremendous diversity of climatic conditions, geology, soils, and other factors that influence water flow, flora, and fauna. There is equally great variation in historical experiences, cultural expression, institutional arrangements, laws, policies, and attitudes. No single model could fit with all the existing governmental arrangements found at the state and local levels, and it would be a mistake to impose a standard model from the federal level.
Second, fragmentation of responsibility and lack of clarity about how to resolve disputes caused by conflicting missions among federal agencies inhibits the success of the watershed approach. For example, during the course of this study the committee identified 22 federal agencies that deal with the hydrologic cycle, although often with dramatically different perspectives. To the public, these confusing and sometimes conflicting approaches to water management are baffling. There is no one consistent voice for the water resource.
As an intellectual and organizational tool, watershed-scale management can be useful in many circumstances, especially for managing biological and geophysical resources and for local and some regional applications. The value of watershed management as a means for truly integrated efforts to achieve a balance of ecological, economic, and social goals remains a hypothesis that has not yet been completely proven. But flexible application of watershed principles can improve the joint efforts of researchers, managers, decisionmakers, and citizens in their search for a sustainable economy and a quality environment.
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