The belief that watersheds make a sound basis for water resources planning and management is not new, as evidenced by waves of scientific, policy, and public interest going back as far as the 1930s. Yet after many years of high expectations, the nation is still struggling to find ways to implement integrated management at the watershed level. Much of the science and technology needed to provide the underpinnings necessary for integrated water management already exists. Numerous scholarly reports have highlighted the potential benefits to be gained from a watershed approach. But we have fallen short in turning our understanding of watersheds and the benefits of integrated management into action. How can decisionmakers—given the complex social, economic, and environmental setting that is any watershed—put all the pieces together in support of a long-term vision that meets a variety of needs, both social and environmental? How do we judge where a watershed approach is appropriate, and how do we bring together the fight mix of people and resources to make it happen?
The National Research Council formed the Committee on Watershed Management in 1996 at the request of a coalition of federal agencies with responsibilities related to watersheds.1 The committee was asked to study the opportunities and constraints associated with watershed-scale management and provide water resource managers and planners with ideas to improve the implementation
of watershed management activities. The committee reviewed the range of watershed-scale problems faced today; evaluated selected examples of watershed management to identify strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities; and explored the issue of scale in watershed management and the appropriate roles of federal, state, and local decisionmakers.
The committee's members brought a broad range of experience and expertise to this activity; but to broaden their perspective the members designed this study to include opportunities to talk to a wide range of people working on watershed issues. During the course of the committee's five meetings, we talked with grassroots organizations working to restore fisheries, build greenways, and reduce pollution; state and local officials responsible for day-to-day decisionmaking that affects both large and small watersheds; federal agency personnel striving to balance national and local interests; and members of the academic community who have spent years understanding how watersheds and the people and resources within them function. We visited watersheds in different regions and viewed different scales of activity. This report is the result of two years of effort, and while the committee is wholly responsible for the content and conclusions, we express our sincere thanks to the many people who contributed their time and thoughts (Appendix D). This chapter is a brief primer on watershed management, and includes definitions, descriptions of issues, and other overview material to set the stage for the more detailed discussions in later chapters.
The committee began its assessment of watershed management by posing as a hypothesis the proposition that watershed management is an effective method for integrating environmental, economic, and social aspects of water-related problem solving. Throughout our deliberations, we found ourselves returning to this hypothetical base. As will be seen in almost every chapter of this report, we found some evidence to support our hypothesis, but we also found much contrary evidence. In the end, as explored in Chapter 9, we find we cannot prove or disprove the assertion across the broad range of scales we considered, from small local watersheds to large river basins. We consider the assertion philosophically sound but hampered by uncertainty, especially at larger scales and more complex systems.
There are many ways to define watersheds and watershed management. At the most basic level, a watershed is "a region or area bounded peripherally by a water parting and draining ultimately to a particular watercourse or body of water" (Webster, 1994). Watershed management is a broad concept incorporating the plans, policies, and activities used to control water and related resources and processes in a given watershed. Watershed management activities can range from hands-on guidance to farmers about how to control runoff to multistate initiatives like those under way to improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay.
Watershed management has taken on a large, complex meaning. For instance, the Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) has been instrumental in developing what has come to be called a "watershed protection approach" (USEPA, 1993), the principles of which provide a solid foundation for watershed thinking. According to this model, watershed management should be an integrated, holistic problem-solving strategy used to restore and maintain the physical, chemical, and biological integrity of aquatic ecosystems, protect human health, and provide sustainable economic growth. It focuses on hydrologically defined drainage basins—watersheds—rather than on areas defined by political boundaries. A watershed encompasses not only the water resource, such as a stream, river, lake, estuary, wetland, aquifer, or coastal zone, but all the land that drains into that resource. The appropriate scale of a watershed management unit depends on the physical, political, and resource conditions of the area of interest.
A watershed management approach typically has several distinguishing characteristics, including:
- It seeks to balance the institutional objectives of the federal, state, and local agencies operating within the watershed to achieve a balanced strategy for the particular area of interest.
- Its decisionmaking processes strive to involve the full range of relevant stakeholders and to use consultation and consensus-building techniques to reach a broadly supported plan that reflects a negotiated balance of interests.
- It uses sound, scientifically based information from an array of disciplines to understand the factors influencing the aquatic and terrestrial ecosystem', human health, and economic conditions of the watershed.
- It attempts to design and use cost-effective methods that are funded by fair cost-share contributions of the stakeholders within the area of interest so that the cost of the projects, both in terms of financial resources and impacts on stakeholders, are distributed in proportion to the benefits received by the different stakeholders.
- It creates a framework of intergovernmental and interagency agreements that guarantee implementation of the plans developed in the decisionmaking process and which rely on a partnership approach rather than laws or ordinances.
- It includes steps to evaluate the effects of watershed management with easily defined measurements and standards.
USEPA's watershed approach has three major cornerstones. First is problem identification, which identifies the primary threats to human and ecosystem health within the watershed. Second is stakeholder involvement, which involves the people most likely to be concerned or most able to take action. And third is the integration of actions, that is, corrective efforts taken in a comprehensive, integrated manner once solutions are determined. The approach evaluates success and refines actions as necessary (USEPA, 1993).
USEPA views this approach as placing a heavy emphasis on the many elements that affect water quality, including chemical composition (toxics and conventional pollutants), physical water quality (temperature, flow, and circulation), habitat quality (channel morphology, composition, and health of biologic communities), and biodiversity (species number and range). The approach encompasses all waters—surface and ground, inland and coastal—and is seen as a framework for integrating existing programs (USEPA, 1993). Chapter 8 contains more discussion of USEPA's watershed approach.
The National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) (formerly the Soil Conservation Service or SCS) also has been heavily involved in developing watershed management approaches. The NRCS approach provides ecosystem-based assistance to its clients (mostly farmers), and focuses on scientific management of natural systems and processes. Ecosystems are defined in space and time with subsystems that address inputs, processes, and outputs. This ability to conceptually nest smaller ecosystems within larger ecosystems offers tremendous flexibility. One method of nesting is along defined hydrologic boundaries, where ecosystems can be nested from subfield to field to large watershed. However, NRCS also advocates using functional boundaries that recognize socioeconomic, political, and legal constraints as a framework for analyzing ecosystem conditions and delivering technical and financial assistance to clients. The NRCS planning process encourages public involvement in identifying problems, evaluating the effects of alternative solutions, and implementing actions at the appropriate level (SCS, 1994).
The advantages of the NRCS approach is that it creates awareness of the interrelationships that sustain life, considers the effects of its planned actions over time, at interrelated scales (e.g., in large and' small watersheds, interconnected planning areas, farms, fields, etc.), and considers interactions among the soil, water, air, plant, animal, and human resources to achieve environmentally and economically sustainable use of natural resources. NRCS calls for an interdisciplinary approach that recognizes risk or uncertainty while still acting on the best available science and technology. The goal is to help clients sustain and or enhance ecosystems in harmony with social, cultural, and economic considerations (SCS, 1994). Chapter 8 contains more on NRCS's watershed planning approach.
As seen in both the USEPA and NRCS efforts, watershed thinking puts great emphasis on involving stakeholders in both identifying issues and problems and creating and implementing solutions (see Box 1.1). Stakeholders include all those people, groups, corporations, local governments, and state and federal agencies that have some authority over the watershed or its processes, or interest in its condition. In the past, when government alone tried to solve the problems, it often created resistance from the people who lived, earned their living, or recreated in the watershed. Individuals and groups often lacked the resources or authority to accomplish their goals for the watershed. Only by bringing all these
groups together in a collaborative planning effort can lasting agreements be reached that restore or prevent further degradation of the watershed.
Managing Watersheds To Benefit People
Since passage of the Clean Water Act, the federal government has invested more than $100 million to improve the quality of the nation's waters. Despite this investment, which focused on point discharge of pollutants, the goal of swimmable and fishable waters has not been attained for all surface water bodies. The remaining problems stem primarily from nonpoint sources, related mainly to farms, transportation systems, and urban runoff. Such uses greatly influence the quality and quantity of the water resource, emphasizing the need for a geographically anchored or place-based approach to water quality.
The nation also needs a more productive approach to both the quality and quantity of its ground water supplies. Ground water quality impacts surface water quality because most of the base flow of rivers and streams is from ground water, springs, and seeps. And surface waters percolate into ground water through wetlands, recharge areas, and stream bottoms. The frequent interchange between surface and ground water ensures that what pollutes one pollutes the other. The more we learn about the paths water travels—over land, picking up sediments and pollutants, underground, dissolving salts and minerals, sitting in lakes and ponds, dropping sediment in wetlands, and being aerated in streams running over rocks—the more we appreciate the complexity of the interactions.
Because many of the problems leading to water pollution are complex and interrelated, many piecemeal attempts to specific problems have actually exacerbated or created other problems. Watershed-based approaches offer a more integrated way to address these issues. Comprehensive management programs can affect the full range of goods and services that watersheds provide. These benefits include water supply, water quality, flood control, sediment control, navigation, hydroelectric power generation, fisheries, biodiversity, habitat preservation, and recreation. These various purposes are often intertwined, and they can at times be in competition. To some extent, the purposes for which a watershed can be managed are controlled by the physical environment. Beyond that, the choice of benefits desired is made based on human needs and societal goals—a situation that sets the stage for a complex and sometimes contentious process.
As the receiver, collector, and conveyer of precipitation, the watershed is a logical central component of management efforts to provide adequate water supplies to users. Land uses in the watershed directly affect how much and how quickly water runs off the surface into downstream rivers and reservoirs. The importance of watersheds to urban water supplies has long been recognized in the
Box 1.1 Involving Stakeholders: The Phalen Chain of Lakes Watershed Project
The Phalen Chain of Lakes watershed project illustrates an effort that integrates the interests of a wide range of stakeholders. Located in the northeast section of St. Paul, Minn., in the Mississippi River basin, it is a 25-square-mile (40.225 sq. km.) urban watershed that has undergone a comprehensive planning process to develop an integrated resource management plan. The plan addresses water quality, wetland protection, vegetation and wildlife management, fisheries, and river corridor protection and restoration. The effort is governed by a citizen-based steering committee composed of local elected officials and commissioners, lakeshore owners, business representatives, environmental organizations, and neighborhood representatives. While the initial project partners included the Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the City of St. Paul, and the University of Minnesota Department of Landscape Architecture, it now also includes seven city governments and two counties. A technical advisory committee, composed of city and county staff from involved resource agencies, was
United States, especially in relatively dry western areas where cities depend on water originating in distant mountain areas. The demand for water has become so great that local supplies have been augmented by water imported from hundreds of miles away (NRC, 1992). Some eastern cities rely on similar arrangements, such as New York City's use of water from upstate watersheds. In fact, one of the initial justifications for establishing national forest reserves (now Called National Forests) included watershed management to protect downstream urban water supplies.
Abundant water fuels the U.S. economy and standard of living. Public water systems provide about 160 gallons per person per day, for a total of approximately 40 billion gallons. In 50 years, water demand is expected to be 50 billion gallons per day if per capita use remains constant. At the household level, a typical family of four each day uses 10 gallons for drinking and cooking, 15 gallons for dish washing, 98 gallons for toilets, 80 gallons for bathing, 35 gallons for laundry, and 100 gallons for watering the lawn and car washing. This comes
formed to help assemble information and comment on issues and recommendations of the steering committee. Planning funding was provided by the McKnight Foundation and in-kind services from agencies and the Watershed District.
The planning process identified seven major issues of priority to the stakeholders: declining water quality, loss of wetlands, need for ecosystem level management, reduced biodiversity, need for balance between natural resources protection and growth, recreation, and conflicts between levels of government. A seven-point action was developed:
to 338 gallons per day, or 84.5 gallons per day per person. In add regions the per capita use is higher due to. use of water in cooling and higher needs for lawn watering and gardening (Naiman et al., 1995).
Water 'is an indispensable component of industrial production. About 100,000 gallons of water are required to produce one automobile, 60,000 gallons to produce a ton of steel, and 280 gallons to produce one Sunday newspaper (World Resources Institute, 1992).
Water is also critical to' agriculture. While irrigation is concentrated in western states, it is remarkably' widespread, from Hawaii's sugar fields to the rice fields of Arkansas to southern Florida's truck gardens. In the 1980s, irrigation accounted for 1 of every 8 acres under cultivation and nearly $4 of every $10 of the value of crop production (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1986). And while irrigation occurs on just 1.4.8 percent of all harvested cropland, that cropland produces 37.8 percent of the value of U.S. crops (Bajwa et al., 1992). Care should be taken, however, not to equate consumptive use with water withdrawals. Not
all water withdrawn is consumed; in fact, much is returned to the system as return flows and reused downstream. So even if conservation practices are adopted and withdrawals are reduced by a significant amount, it does not necessarily hold that this "conserved" water is available for reallocation.
Water quality is a reflection of the chemical, physical, and biological constituents that are suspended or dissolved in the water. These constituents are contributed by both natural processes and human activities. Natural factors that influence water quality include geology, soils, topography, vegetation, wildlife populations, and climate. But far more important in causing most water quality problems are human activities and land use in the watershed (see Box 1.2).
Water quality problems and our progress in combating them vary considerably around the nation. Overall, significant strides have been made over the past 30 years in ameliorating water quality problems caused by point sources, largely as a result of the Clean Water Act. Sources of contamination include point sources, such as municipal wastewater and industrial discharges. But little progress has been achieved to combat nonpoint sources, such as agricultural cropland, livestock, urban development, forest management, mining, recreation, roads, and atmospheric deposition. On a national scale, nonpoint sources are responsible for most of the contaminants introduced to waterways (Robbins et al., 1991)—so much so that to many people the term watershed management means primarily the management of nonpoint pollution, although this report takes a broader view.
The United States has a long history of managing watersheds to reduce problems caused by floods, primarily via engineering structures such as dams, levees, and reservoirs. In fact, providing reliable water supplies and concurrent protection against floods was perhaps the most important motivator of this nation's earliest watershed management efforts. But rapid accumulation of runoff from storms or snowmelt also can be controlled at least in part by upland land-use practices, riparian zone management, and other strategies. Integrated approaches to watershed management that include attention to source areas and protection of wetland areas offer real potential as a tool in the flood protection toolbox.
Stream sedimentation caused by the erosion of surface materials is a significant chemical and physical issue for any watershed management effort. Sediment can affect water quality, natural habitat, navigation, flood control, and
recreational uses of the downstream reaches of the watershed. Accordingly, federal and state regulations consider sediment to be a pollutant, despite the fact that it is a natural component of functional rivers. Many chemical pollutants adhere to the surfaces of sedimentary particles, so that sediment-rich discharges usually carry higher loadings of pollution than water alone. The sediment itself also poses problems for the physical integrity of streams because it fills downstream reservoirs, consuming space that was originally designed to store water. Sedimentation in channels alters their configuration and destabilizes them, making management and use more difficult as well as increasing their flood potential as channel capacity is reduced. Sedimentation also affects fish by silting over gravel beds necessary for spawning and covering benthic organisms important in the food chain.
Many American waterways serve as transportation corridors for large quantities of bulk goods. For instance, the Ohio, Missouri, and Mississippi rivers have huge upstream service areas to ocean ports and carry barge traffic of coal, grain, natural gas, and other bulk commodities. The system of dams and locks that makes this commerce possible requires a consistent flow of water made possible only by basinwide management. On the Columbia River system, and many others, barge traffic must compete for management attention with fisheries, recreational, and hydroelectric objectives. The resolution of such competition among uses must take into account local as well as national interests.
Economic Development with Hydroelectric Power
The United States has long used watershed management to accomplish economic development goals, primarily but not exclusively in the West. That is, we have used construction of large dams and associated structures to provide water and water-dependent services (e.g., drinking water, irrigation water, and power) to our citizens, first to encourage people to settle the West and through time to sustain the farms and industry of western communities. Hydroelectric power generation is a classic example. At least two large efforts—the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in the southeast and the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) in the Pacific Northwest—originated during the Great Depression and were part of a vast federal initiative to restore economic vitality. The spirit of these programs was captured in the words of folk singer Woody Guthrie, who in 1941 wrote the following on commission for BPA about the new Columbia hydropower system (Lee, 1993):
. . . roll along, Columbia, you can ramble to the sea,
But river, while you're rambling, you can do some work for me.
. . . Lots of folks around the country,
Box 1.2 A Model of Success in Watershed Management: The Flathead Fiver-Lake Ecosystem
Watershed management has been the centerpiece of community-based efforts to protect water quality in the Flathead River Basin in northwestern Montana and Southeastern British Columbia, Canada. Some 42 percent of this 22,250 km2 watershed is virtually pristine because of its location in Glacier National Park and adjacent National Forest wilderness areas. The remainder is extensively roaded for timber harvest, and the very scenic valley bottoms contain large tracts of agricultural lands, which are rapidly becoming semi-urban. The sixth order Flathead River discharges a mean annual flow of 360 cms into 480 km2 Flathead Lake, which is the largest lake in the western United States and has extremely high quality water on par with Lake Superior and Lake Tahoe.
In 1977, research was initiated to determine potential impacts of a coal strip mine in British Columbia on water resources downstream in Montana. Concern about mining impacts on native trout and nutrient and metal pollution prompted funding from the Environmental Protection Agency to a local board composed of agency heads, tribal and community leaders, and private citizens. This watershed management board, which later was designated the Flathead Basin Commission (FBC) by the Montana legislature, coordinated funding of water quality monitoring and research and mediated public participation in the watershed manage
Politicians and such,
Said the old Columbia wouldn't 'mount to much.
But with all their figures and all their books
Them boys didn't know their Royal Chinooks.
. . . It's a good river.
Just needs a Couple more dozen big power dams
Scattered up and down it,
Keeping' folks busy.
. . . Well the folks need houses and stuff to eat,
ment effort. The mine plan was scrapped when the high likelihood of severe pollution of the pristine waters of the Flathead was demonstrated. The FBC continued to coordinate management efforts to reduce nutrient loading to Flathead Lake from human sources.
Three interactive threats to water quality have been demonstrated through research conducted by the University of Montana Flathead Lake Biological Station: eutrophication from nutrient loading, food web change caused by introduction of nonnative biota, and flow and lake level regulation by hydroelectric dams on Flathead Lake and the South Fork of the Flathead River. Eutrophication has been curtailed substantially by a 10 percent reduction in the Flathead Lake nutrient load as a result of construction of urban sewage treatment systems with nutrient removal technologies, a basinwide ban on sale of phosphorus-containing detergents, and encouragement of best management practices for timbering and agriculture. The FBC adopted total maximum daily load targets for Flathead Lake to reduce nonpoint loading by at least 30 percent. State legislation now forbids introduction of nonnative fishes, and the large dams are being retrofitted and reregulated to minimize downstream effects of hydropower operations. The National Park Service received a federal reserve water right under an unprecedented agreement with the state that protects in perpetuity the virgin flow of the north and middle forks of the Flathead River.
Successful watershed conservation and management in the Flathead was largely a product of proactive and voluntary actions mediated by the FBC and other citizen-based organizations, and by the use of basic research on ecosystem processes to demonstrate threats and solutions. More information may be obtained from the FBC at the Office of the Governor, Helena, Montana, or from the Flathead Lake Biological Station web page (http://www.umt.edu/biology/flbs).
And the folks need metals and the folks need wheat.
Folks need water and power dams.
And folks need people and people need the land.
. . . This whole big Pacific Northwest up here out to be run,
The way I see it,
The generation of hydroelectric power requires a dependable water supply that can be released from control and storage structures on demand. Because of
the need for significant infrastructure and careful operation, hydroelectric power generation is generally compatible with two other watershed benefits—provision of water supplies and flood protection. But hydroelectric power is not always compatible with other watershed objectives. For instance, depending on the design and operation of the facilities, a dam often creates a stretch of river below it with little or no water present until the water is returned from the bypass structures, thus eliminating fish habitat and recreation. Dams also create barriers to the upstream migration of species such as salmon, and fish ladders and other methods for moving populations upstream are less than ideal. Upstream, dams create flatwater reservoirs where moving water species once lived. Downstream, fish populations can change, and native species can be threatened with extinction, because the water released from dams may be much colder or different in other ways from pre-dam conditions.
Dam operation also can have environmental effects. Many dams operate to produce what is called ''peaking power," that is, they produce power only when it is most needed—a practice that causes rapid and sometimes major fluctuations in flows. For instance, the Colorado River below Glen Canyon Dam has seen river level fluctuations up to 13 feet per day in the Grand Canyon, leading to accelerated erosion of beaches and loss of critical habitat along the river corridor. Beach replacement is slow because the sediment that once muddied the river is trapped above the dam; native species like the humpback chub are endangered because of the many changes to the environment (NRC, 1996a). As a result of careful study and societal pressure, in 1996 Glen Canyon Dam operators released an experimental high flow designed to rectify some of these problems, and early indications are that future operation of the dam will be altered to better balance the benefits add costs of the dam.
Scientific studies of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems during the last two decades have drastically altered our understanding of their composition, structure, function, and complexity (Franklin, 1992), and increased our awareness of the value of biodiversity in ecosystems. As explained by the noted scientist E.O. Wilson (Wilson, 1988):
The diversity of life forms, so numerous that we have yet to identify most of them, is the greatest wonder of this planet. . .. Biological diversity must be treated more seriously as a global resource, to be indexed, used, and above all, preserved. Three circumstances conspire to give this matter an unprecedented urgency. First, exploding human populations are degrading the environment at an accelerating rate, especially in tropical countries. Second, science is discovering new uses for biological diversity in ways that can relieve both human suffering and environmental destruction. Third, much of the diversity is being irreversibly lost through extinction caused by the destruction of natural habitats. . .
From a watershed perspective, riparian habitats in particular have come to be seem as diverse and essential habitats for many organisms and processes, and they provide a critical link between aquatic and upland ecosystems. Riparian vegetation, for instance, controls much of the environmental regime of stream ecosystems (although this is less true of larger streams and rivers), and plays a vital role in determining the quantity and timing of flows as well as stream temperature, which is strongly influenced by shadows cast by riparian vegetation. Riparian zones are the source of woody debris, an extremely important structural component of the aquatic ecosystem; such debris creates a structural complexity vital to the stream's ability to store sediments, detain water, and create a variety of specialized habitats supporting biological diversity. Wetlands play similar important roles in maintaining biodiversity and watershed processes.
Watershed management can be used as a tool to enhance wildlife objectives, one element of ecological diversity. Although not relevant in all cases, watershed planning can include attempts to avoid degradation of critical wildlife habitat or restore habitat lost to past decisions. For example, the current phase of relicensing nonfederal hydropower facilities now gives attention to restoring minimum water flows below dams where appropriate, thus restoring fish habitat. Communities rehabilitating waterways through urban areas often attempt to restore fish habitat, for instance by placing logs or other debris in strategic locations to serve as cover for fish.
The artificial introduction of exotic species, in some cases for the express purposes of manipulating watershed processes such as erosion, can have a negative effect on ecological diversity. Kudzu and water hyacinths in the southeastern United States, tamarisk in Western states, purple loosetrife in New England, arrundo in California, and Russian olive in many sections of the country were well-intentioned introductions that have escaped control and now infest many watersheds in undesirable densities, eliminating native species and reducing overall diversity.
Increased attention to diversity and the related issue of habitat protection often calls for making hard decisions about trade-offs involving other watershed benefits—for instance, accepting some lost power opportunities in exchange for increased flows below dams.
Fishes and Other Aquatic Biota
Overall the threat to aquatic biodiversity in North American is great. In the United States, aquatic organisms are among the nation's most imperiled (Table 1.1). Of the entire flora and fauna, the four groups with the greatest percentage of species currently extinct or at risk of extinction are aquatic.
Our nation's historical approach to managing of watershed resources has reduced the populations of native fishes in American streams. New England mill dams eliminated shad runs on many streams by the early 1800s, and two thirds of
TABLE 1.1 The Percent of Species of Conservation Concern (Vulnerable, Imperiled, Critically Imperiled, or Extinct) in Each of 13 Major Plant and Animal Groups in the United States.
the species of the Illinois River watershed had experienced elimination or declines by 1850. By 1950, the fish catch in the Illinois system had declined nearly to zero (Doppelt et al., 1993). In the Southwest, conversion of sections of warm, sediment-laden streams to cool, clear water conditions by the installation of numerous large dams has eliminated or endangered all the native fishes, and in the Pacific Northwest, the annual salmon catch in some systems has plummeted from millions to thousands of fish in the past few decades because of the impoundment of millions of acre-feet of water behind extensive dam systems and because of poor watershed management (NRC, 1996b).
Despite a nationwide effort to improve water quality sparked by passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, of the 251 species of fish classed as being at risk of extinction in 1979, none were removed from the list by 1989 except those that actually became extinct (Williams et al., 1989). To date, not a single aquatic species has been delisted through Endangered Species Act procedures because of implementation of a successful recovery plan. The majority of listed aquatic species do not even have formalized recovery plans.
Many factors, usually in combination, have contributed to the decline of aquatic organisms. Some of the most important include habitat loss (migration blockages, draining and filling, impounding rivers, diversion of flow to other watersheds, channelization, and other effects of human activities) and exotic species introductions. Miller et al., (1989) estimated the relative importance of differ-
ent factors to the extinction of North American fishes and estimated that habitat alteration was a major factor in 73 percent of the cases of extinction of native North American fishes; introduced species were a factor in 68 percent, water pollution a factor in 38 percent, hybridization in 38 percent, and overfishing in 15 percent.
Over geologic time periods, fish populations evolved in response to prevailing watershed conditions, including seasonal variations in flow, sediment concentrations, streambed particle sizes, riparian vegetation, and water chemistry. Land uses, engineering structures, and water management have altered all these basic conditions. Naiman et al., (1995) estimate that wetlands in the United States have declined by 40 to 60 percent, and riparian forests along approximately 70 percent of the rivers have been lost or severely altered. It is only through integrated watershed management addressing these varied influences that fisheries can be improved and restored to desirable levels.
Most watersheds in the United States have been altered by human activities, with only five percent of the surface area still in its original natural condition, and about 2.5 percent in designated wilderness areas. Preserved watersheds serve multiple purposes, including recreation, the protection of wildlife habitat, and the filtration and storage of water. Wilderness areas in the Colorado Rockies, for example, yield water for the urbanized Front Range cities such as Denver while also serving as major outdoor recreation areas. Pursuit of preservation in mountain or upstream watersheds is fairly straightforward, but the issue becomes more complex when considering the Wild and Scenic River system, where some river segments are developed while others downstream are designated as wild. Preserving some segments is difficult because they receive pollutants and altered hydrologic regimes from upstream areas not managed primarily for preservation.
Preserve boundaries rarely conform to watershed boundaries, with political considerations playing an important role. A cursory examination of boundaries in the National Park system suggests that parks are usually centered around a landscape feature of interest, such as a mountain range, rather than drainage basins. However, there are some exceptions; for example, Great Basin National Park, and the designation by the Forest Ecosystem Management and Assessment Team (FEMAT, 1993) of 162 "key watersheds" covering 8.7 million acres in the Pacific Northwest in which conservation of spotted owls and aquatic resources was given priority over other development activities on federal lands.
Water provides a great range of recreational opportunities that can be enhanced by watershed management. For instance, upstream watershed manage-
ment activities designed to help ensure adequate supplies and protect water quality can also benefit downstream reservoirs, increasing their value for flatwater recreation such as boating and fishing. Similarly, hydroelectric facilities can be operated in a way that balances economic and recreation values—for example, scheduling releases of whitewater flows on weekends when paddlers most desire access and when power demands are low, or requiring minimum flows below dams to maintain recreational fisheries. While managing watersheds to accomplish such goals may involve land-use decisions, dam operating rules and licenses, and other complex social and institutional issues, recreation's social and economic importance make it a "stakeholder" in any integrated watershed planning effort.
Barriers And Challenges To implementation
Although watershed planning and management offers great potential and can draw on a technical foundation that has evolved tremendously in recent years, implementation has proven extremely difficult. Some of the reasons for this include (Heaney, 1993):
- Watershed planning, and planning in general, is Often perceived as a static process that leads to the formulation and adoption of a restrictive master plan. Groups of people, especially those with diverse interests, can seldom agree to accept a master plan that will bind them to a single course of action.
- Watershed boundaries typically do not coincide with political boundaries, creating problems in establishing a watershed authority or commission.
- Planning models often have been based on weak databases, and thus the results were not realistic and had little credibility.
- Watershed planning involves great complexity, especially when environmental impacts are included (see Box 1.3).
- The planning process is slow, and people grow impatient waiting for answers, agreement, and especially action.
Any efforts to manage resources at a watershed level must account for and try to overcome these challenges.
In addition, both the national movement toward watershed management and any individual watershed-level efforts must deal with the fragmentation of authority that is still common in the water resources field. Different federal agencies that play a role in water resource decisionmaking have different agency goals. For instance, on a federal level, the Environmental Protection Agency is concerned about water quality under the Safe Drinking Water Act, and "fishable and swimmable" issues under the Clean Water Act. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers concerns itself with navigation, flood control, and wetlands preservation. The Bureau of Reclamation develops and delivers water supplies and hydropower in western states. The Natural Resources Conservation Service is con-
Box 1.3 The Chesapeake Bay: Watershed Management Meets Airshed-Scale Problems
The restoration of the Chesapeake Bay has been the focus of intense effort over the last 20 years. The hydrologic watershed covers 64,000 square miles (102,979 sq. km.), encompassing parts of the states of New York, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Mayland, Virginia, and all of Washington, D.C. Three of these states, (VA, MD, PA) and the District of Columbia, together with the USEPA, have joined together in a cooperative effort to clean up the Bay. The have set a goal to reduce the phosphorus and nitrogen entering the Bay by 40 percent. Each state has planned its own approach to meet the goal, using techniques such as a ban on phosphates in detergents; vegetated buffers along streams, wetlands, and bay edges; and more stringent regulations on septic tank placement and operation. But when the Chesapeake Bay Commission modeled the nutrient inputs from the various land and water sources and compared them other amounts found in the Bay, they could not balance the equation. Researchers finally realized that the unaccounted for nitrogen (25-33 percent) was coming from air pollution.
The airshed for the Chesapeake Bay covers 350,000 square miles (563,150 sq. km.) and ranges north to Ontario, to Indiana, and to Tennessee and North Carolina. Atmospheric deposition is also the Bay's leading source of toxic pollutants such as zinc, lead, and mercury. The smallest particles, which are not regulated at this point and which carry the greatest concentration of toxics, are washed out of the air by rain. This enriched rainwater falls directly into the Bay as well as onto the land that drains into the Bay.
This illustrates the difficulty of defining boundaries when dealing with environmental problems. What are the boundaries that we need to be concerned with if we are working to restore the Chesapeake Bay to a healthy aquatic system with an abundance of crab, oysters, and rock fish?
cerned with soil erosion within small watersheds, particularly agricultural areas. And the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is responsible for enforcing the Endangered Species Act, and is concerned about the health of natural aquatic and terrestrial communities. Often these agencies disagree with one another on the correct approach to managing water resources. They compete with one another for federal dollars to carry out their missions. Often the states, local governments, tribes, and private parties are caught between these federal agencies, and rarely is there a path of action that satisfies all.
Fragmentation of Authority and Funding
Fragmentation of decisionmaking is not limited to the federal level. The problem is mirrored in the states with competing agencies such as water quality regulators, wildlife agencies, public health agencies, and land management agencies. Frequently, for management purposes ground water is separated from surface water, point sources are treated separately from nonpoint sources of pollution, and watershed impacts from agriculture, forestry, and mining are addressed by separate agencies. Local governments may have departments that deal with different aspects of water resources, with one department for drinking water and another for wastewater, and still another for wetlands and riparian areas. Local governments must often depend on the science that comes from the federal government, follow state and federal laws and regulations, and seek funds from a myriad of sources to help them solve their water resource problems. Private enterprises must obtain permits from local, state, or federal government agencies, or even all three. Identifying solutions to management problems that are satisfactory as well as economically feasible to all these groups is difficult.
A continuum of regulatory interest thus runs from the federal government through the state to the local entities. Each has its sphere of influence over land and water resources. Each has strengths and weaknesses in its ability to deal with all the aspects of a watershed system. Integrating this continuum into the reality of the physical resource and political context is an unmet challenge.
Funding of watershed projects is also fragmented and complicated. A number of federal and state programs make some funds available for watershed-level planning and implementation, but the funds are often narrowly focused leaving many needs unmet. Local governments experience considerable difficulty balancing the equation of who pays and who benefits. Headwaters communities are reluctant to pay for projects that primarily benefit those downstream. Communities in the lower reaches of watersheds may be willing to contribute to headwaters projects, but if the effort is in a different county, state, or even country, legal arrangements may prohibit such investments. Similarly, when multiple jurisdictions benefit from a project, contributions can be complicated. Some watershed groups have been organized with taxing authority that cuts across jurisdictions, but such arrangements are uncommon and not necessarily a panacea for funding problems.
As interest in the watershed approach grows and the problems of water quality and quantity increase, there are more cooperative efforts to solve these challenges. Problem identification is usually the first, and easiest, step. Defining feasible and achievable goals and moving to the planning stage are more difficult. Measurements and assessments of outcomes are rare. Many watershed projects require several years of effort, a time period that may outlast the terms of important elected officials or funding.
Why Watersheds Again?
Given these challenges why revisit the watershed approach now? Do we really possess new ideas, tools, and opportunities available today that we lacked in the past? Many past watershed efforts met with limited success, so what is different this time around? The committee believes that a combination of factors have coalesced to spark renewed interest today. These include (Heaney, 1993):
- frustration with the fragmented "command and control" approach that has been in favor for more than a decade;
- a significant shift of power, with nonfederal entities emerging as important partners due at least in part to the federal government's withdrawal of financial support for planning activities;
- growing concern over cost-effectiveness, especially with regard to environmental management and in light of tight budgets;
- related planning approaches that have demonstrated success, such as in the electric energy field where integrated resources planning is an accepted approach; and
- growing realization that decentralized water markets can be an effective alternative to central control over water allocation.
The committee believes that these and other changes make this an especially propitious point in the evolution of watershed management. First, the scientific foundation necessary to build watershed activities has advanced greatly, both in the depth and breadth of information and in the tools and techniques of analysis available. Perhaps more important, public awareness of watershed issues has increased, as has the public's desire to participate in decisionmaking. Changes in government funding mechanisms and new methods for conflict resolution also increase interest in a watershed approach. This means that a watershed approach can offer real help to decisionmakers working in ever more complex settings.
Increased Public Awareness
The public's interest in environmental protection, signaled by the first Earth Day in 1970, has provided a political and funding base that has created many changes in the nation's laws and in people's behavior. The nation underwent an unprecedented shift in values, and calls for a cleaner, safer environment continue, along with an apparent willingness to pay the necessary costs. Political efforts made in the mid-1990s to relax environmental standards provoked a backlash. Public opinion polls consistently indicate a widespread interest in enhancing and protecting the environment. Public interest and support are especially necessary if we are to produce new successes in watershed management, since nonpoint
source pollution reduction, water conservation, and aquatic habitat protection will require broadly based activity at the grassroots level.
New Technical Tools
Watershed-level environmental management may be desirable, but it often has been impractical because of the complexity of integrating biological, hydrological, chemical, economic, and social considerations into decisionmaking, particularly at large scales. Many recent developments, however, allow faster and better gathering, organization, and manipulation of data. Remote sensing from satellites allows land use and land cover to be analyzed with relative ease and great accuracy. Locations in the field can be specified within a few meters rapidly and cheaply, thanks to Global Positioning Systems (GPS). Automated sampling and analytical methods can provide fine-resolution data of high quality, and telemetry can pass this information to users in real time. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) allow for storage, manipulation, and visualization of large and complex data sets. Many of these tools have been combined with field expertise in a technique called Rapid Ecological Assessments, which provide quick but relatively complete pictures of the system being studied. GIS also makes spatially distributed modeling accessible to a much larger segment of the management community, and the maps produced can be understood by the general public.
The power and ease of use of computers is another dramatic advance. For instance, there are now software programs for stormwater modeling, surface water modeling, groundwater modeling, and watershed modeling that provide guidance on water quality and quantity, erosion, and sediment transport. Finally, the expansion of the Internet and the World Wide Web greatly facilitate the dissemination of information.
Unprecedented cost-cutting by the federal government in recent years has led to the restructuring of several agencies with key water resource responsibilities. In some instances, tight budgets have hampered watershed management efforts. For example, reductions in the scope of the USGS monitoring of water quality and quantity is creating a serious data gap to emerge (see Chapter 5). At the same time, however, restructuring may provide an opportunity to enhance watershed management, as agencies realign to prevent duplication. Restructuring therefore may provide an opportunity to remodel some activities along watershed lines within or among agencies. The USEPA has already reorganized some programs with an explicit watershed focus, and significant changes in agencies like the NRCS and Army Corps of Engineers allow them to address issues on a watershed level.
New Approaches to Conflict Resolution
Much has been learned over the past two decades about how to mediate environmental and other public policy disputes, and alternative dispute resolution has grown into an important tool in a wide variety of resource-management planning activities. Increasingly, environmental planning strives to include all stake-holders, and this list becomes longer and more complete when the environment is considered as a whole, as in watershed management. Thus the watershed management approach can facilitate conflict resolution by fostering more complete inclusion of interested parties. This is not to underplay real conflicts that may exist, nor to imply that all discord is simple misunderstanding that can be corrected by increased dialogue. But it is to recognize that by bringing all the parties to the table, undertaking negotiations. and conducting research needed contentions to answer questions, we can often get closer to a solution.
Choosing Terms: Watershed Versus Ecosystem Management
As noted earlier, interest in watershed management is not new and the term has been in use since at least the 1930s. In recent years, much emphasis has been devoted to a similar, related concept: ecosystem management. Ecosystem management has been defined in different ways, but in general the goal is "sustaining healthy ecosystems . . . to ensure ecosystem viability indefinitely" (Iverson, 1993). It is, according to The Keystone National Policy Dialogue on Ecosystem Management (1996) "a collaborative process that strives to reconcile the promotion of economic opportunities and livable communities with the conservation of ecological integrity and biodiversity." It requires the integration of social, economic, and ecological considerations at broad spatial and temporal scales (Moote et al., 1994). Ecosystem management is a management philosophy which focuses on desired conditions, rather than system outputs, and which recognizes the need to protect or restore critical ecological components, functions, and structures in order to sustain resources in perpetuity (Cortner et al., 1996).
Ecosystem management and watershed management share some important elements: a focus on socially defined goals and management objectives; use of integrated, holistic science; focus on a broad range of spatial and temporal scales, often larger and longer than has been the norm in resource management; reliance on collaborative decisionmaking; and a call for more flexible, adaptable institutions in which decisions are continuously reviewed and revised, and thus where planning and decisionmaking can go forward even in the face of uncertainty (Cortner et al., 1996). Despite these similarities and the many merits of an ecosystem approach, this committee elected to focus on watershed management in part because our focus is on solving water-related problems rather than restoration/ conservation, and in part for the clarity of communication we believe comes with
thinking about watersheds, which are fairly obvious, understandable landscape units. Ecosystems are far harder to draw on a map with any precision and even federal agencies have drawn different lines in dividing the nation into ecoregions (GAO, 1994). As Adler (1996) points out:
. . . ecological boundaries often cannot be identified with precision, and depending on the aquatic resources of greatest concern, a variety of potential aquatic ecosystem boundaries exist— ''salmonsheds" versus "ducksheds," for example. After adding terrestrial ecosystems, the situation becomes even more complex. should programs focus on the boundaries of aquatic ecosystems (watersheds, ducksheds, or salmonsheds), on plant ecosystems (forestsheds), or on the ring of key terrestrial species (bearsheds).
Of course, neither ecosystem boundaries nor watershed boundaries are matched to the political boundaries that are the most common basis for resource management decisionmaking, which leads to many difficulties in implementing such approaches. In fact, rivers were often used as boundaries in creating political divisions, thus actually cutting watersheds in half. Political boundaries are important in delineating the areas by which much of the demographic, cultural, and economic data are collected and analyzed in the nation. They also set the limits of political and legal authority, and set the policies by which natural resources of the area are governed. Awareness of boundaries—political and physical—is thus essential for both understanding the advantages and disadvantages of a watershed approach to decisionmaking and for overcoming barriers to implementation of such approaches.
The notion of watersheds as the basic unit for management of water resources is not new and a watershed approach is being used in many places in the United States to protect and enhance natural resources. However, watersheds are rarely the primary unit used for management because neither national nor local decisionmaking infrastructures are designed to address the complex biophysical, sociological, and economic interactions that occur within watersheds.
Over the past 20 years, the nation's greatest achievement in the field of water management has been enormous reduction in pollution from point sources, with some notable water quality improvements. Yet major portions of our lakes, rivers, wetlands, estuaries, and coastlines do not meet current water quality standards. The unfortunate results of continued impairment can be seen in the decline of fisheries, loss of biodiversity, and curtailment of commercial and recreational activities in watersheds across the country (Wayland, 1993). Programs focused on addressing particular problems, contaminants, or types of activities can be helpful, but are by definition limited. Lasting solutions to many remaining water quality and environmental problems require an integrated management approach
that addresses all water-related issues within hydrologic boundaries. Such an approach must recognize that all resources within natural (hydrologically defined) watershed boundaries are part of interconnected systems and are dependent on the health of the ecosystem as a whole.
The committee believes that watershed science and management needs a broad endorsement by government at all levels as the primary mechanism for dealing with strategic issues of conservation and enhancement of natural resources, particularly water resources. In the following chapters we attempt to provide guidance for reaching this goal.
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