Putting Together a Watershed Management Plan
A Guide for Watershed Partnerships
So you're ready to put together a plan.
The goal of watershed management is to plan and work toward an environmentally and
economically healthy watershed that benefits all who have a stake in it. By now you and
your partners have taken this into consideration in the development of the purpose
statement for your group's watershed efforts. (See Building Local Partnerships guide
for more information on developing a purpose statement.)
Your watershed partnership probably has a good feel for the watershed including maps
and other information.
Once you and your partners have pulled together as much information as possible about your
watershed, you're ready to start putting together a plan. This process can be broken into
The first stage includes uncovering concerns, gathering and
information and data, defining
developing objectives, and documenting data and
The second stage includes developing a game plan for addressing
objectives, selecting the best watershed management
alternative(s), listing ways (strategies) for
selected alternative(s), and determining how to measure progress.
The third stage includes implementing and evaluating efforts.
Remember, your group's efforts will be based on the best available assessment of the
natural, economic and social features of your watershed. It's unrealistic to hope to have
all the information you'll need. Be sure to recognize, note and weigh missing information
throughout the planning process.
Another key point to remember is that these stages are not always done in this order.
For instance, a youth group may want to monitor (evaluate) a stream while the watershed
partnership continues to determine objectives or develop other strategies.
Is your group ready to plan?
You're ready to begin the planning process if....
Most interested stakeholders are involved and all have been invited.
The group has
map(s) and information detailing...
Fish and game surveys
The group has a technical advisory team to assist them.
The group has committed to meet regularly at a neutral location
Geographic Information System (GIS)
Maps containing the information your group may need can be obtained from your local
Natural Resources Conservation Service, planning and zoning, Department of Transportation,
environmental consultants and others. Maps can show multiple items by using an overlapping
technique. If your local technical team (see page 4) has access to a Geographic
Information System (GIS), this "overlapping" may be done for you.
Stage 1: Challenges and objectives
During this first stage the group will go back and forth between identifying
concerns/problems, seeking data, analyzing data and establishing objectives.
Your watershed partnership will need to identify and address concerns about the water and
other natural resource systems, local economy and social structure. Some concerns will be
based on perceptions and others will be based on science. Since it is difficult to
separate perceptual from scientific concerns, all concerns need to be addressed by the
All concerns will need to be explored to see if there is, in fact, a real problem.
Sometimes what you and/or your neighbor may think is a problem (concern), isn't a natural
resource issue and thus, needs to be addressed in another way. Or when researching
perceived problems, you may discover a new problem that the group will want to address.
When developing the list of concerns to be explored, be sure everyone with a stake in
the watershed is involved from the beginning (see Building Local Partnerships guide
for more information on who to involve).
Getting everyone around the same table takes more than a simple announcement in the
paper (although reporters from the local media -- newspapers and stations -- can help
bring others to the group by covering your group's activites). You and others from your
group will need to make some phone calls and personal visits to explain the purpose of a
watershed management plan and how the individual will benefit from getting involved.
Your group may also want to consider how the group envisions future generations using
the natural resources within the watershed. You may want to check with your state water
quality agency to determine the designated water uses for your watershed. (Most bodies of
water in the United States have been designated for a specific type of use.) This
information can be used to begin discussion of water and other natural resources.
Other key aspects to consider are some of the major economic forces. Who are the major
employers? Where are they located? What are the trends? How can your group affect their
future? How can your group impact the economic future of the watershed? How do the
economic, social and natural resources impact each other? What is the role of education
now and in the future?
During this phase all concerns, regardless how minor, need to be surfaced. Only in this
way will all concerns be addressed. Everyone needs to list their concerns. This list
should be compiled for all to see. It's important that debate on the merits of the
concerns be held for later discussion. The objective is to get all concerns on paper at
Water Use Designations
Most water bodies (stream, lake, estuary, wetland, aquifer) have been
designated for a specific use(s) by the state's water quality agency. Uses include:
Fish for consumption
Drinking water supply
Swimming and other high contact recreation
Boating and other minimal contact recreation
Seeking and analyzing data.
Once stakeholders have listed all concerns, you and your group will need to combine
similar subjects. The next step is to seek information and data about the concerns.
Many watershed partnerships have a team of advisors (technical team) who assists the
group with technical questions. Other groups select a subcommittee to research the concern
and report back to the larger group. Some groups bring in consultants for this purpose.
Regardless of which way your group decides to go about it, be sure to seek and use any
existing monitoring data. This can serve as a baseline for comparison later. The data
available will vary considerably from watershed to watershed depending on the extent of
past monitoring efforts and resources.
Your group might ask for assistance from a team of experts including representatives of...
Planning and zoning departments
Fish and game departments
Chambers of commerce
Natural resource agencies
After listing concerns and exploring them by gathering and analyzing data, challenges and
opportunities will surface. Unfortunately, there are not enough funds or time to address
all potential watershed management needs. Priorities must be set that target efforts to
the most critical problems/opportunities.
This is why your group will need to strive for consensus on prioritizing which problems
/ opportunities to pursue. (See Managing
Conflict and Building Local
Partnerships guides for more information.)
Many groups begin prioritizing problems by establishing criteria. This might include:
Ability to influence change. Ask yourselves if there is anything the
group can do to influence the changes needed to overcome the challenges.
Delay between actions and results. Checking with your advisory team,
try to determine the amount of time between when changes occur and when results can be
seen. For example, it may take decades to see results from changes on the land that
ultimately affect a deep aquifer, but changes near a stream bank may quickly affect the
quality of the stream's water.
Willingness to change. Ask yourselves if the reasons are strong enough
to motivate and if those who will need to change would be willing to do so.
Cost/benefit ratio. Are the costs going to outweigh the benefits or are
the benefits going to outweigh the costs?
Now is the time to weigh these important factors.
Determine critical areas.
Critical areas within a watershed have the greatest impact. Determining critical areas can
be done by looking at the landscape. Areas next to a stream or lake can be critical. Or a
critical area might be determined by major water uses such as water supply locations,
recreational areas and fragile wildlife habitats. Or your group may identify areas with
vulnerable characteristics (unstable streambanks or shallow groundwater).
Water quality in critical areas may be affected by "point source" and/or
"nonpoint source" discharges. Point source discharges can come from a pipe or
ditch connected to an industrial facility, storm sewer or feedlots.
Your goal in determining critical areas is to match resource needs with targeted
efforts to get the greatest benefits. These will depend on the watershed and the consensus
of the partners.
Documenting challenges and opportunities.
One of the most important steps in watershed protection is to correctly identify and
document challenges and opportunities.
A challenge is an obstacle that prevents positive changes on parts of society, the
economy, or the environment. In contrast, an opportunity is a condition that can be
created to make a positive affect on society, the economy, or the environment.
By now your group has probably identified several problems and/or opportunities. These
will need to be written down so future partners and prospective financial supporters will
understand the situation.
It may be helpful to document both the resource being affected and the existing
condition (quantity or quality). It also helps to describe damage in both economic
($20,000 annual loss) and resource terms (30 acres or 750 fish). The statement should also
include who, how, where and what is being affected.
Examples: Challenge & Opportunity Statements.
Trout in Blue Creek has been reduced to an annual catch of XXX
per season due
to turbid waters resulting from streambank
erosion. Reduced tourism has resulted in
$XX,000 annual loss
The city of Metropolis issued XX water alerts warning the young,
others with weak immune systems. The cost of
the alerts was $XX,000. In addition, area hospitals report
six cases of people
seeking medical attention at the time the
alerts were issued.
Plenti-Good lake currently is the home to more than ten
migratory ducks including three that are on the
endangered list. According to the last five surveys, the
population is staying level. The
watershed is comprised of
landowners nearing retirement. The group wants to prevent
the watershed which would negatively affect the
In addition to problem/opportunity statements, all data and other information gathered
during this initial phase needs to be recorded. Maps will also need to be included.
Basically, be sure anything that would help a new partner understand how and why the
group has made the decisions is included.
The maps and other data will probably be needed later when you are developing brochures
and other educational tools for implementing your group's plan. In addition, if the group
tries to obtain outside financial assistance, the documentation will be needed to support
the request for funding.
Having documentation makes it easier to put together a proposal on short notice. Either
when a new funding source is located or when "opportunity knocks" with a short
time for getting the application or grant request submitted.
Makes it easier to obtain funding.
Useful for creating informational brochures and other educational
Background for new partners
Ideal for reporters and others from the media developing stories
Once your problems/opportunities have been defined and documented, establishing objectives
is relatively easy. The main purpose for establishing objectives is to clarify the goals
of the group. Remember these points when establishing objectives.
All views of those with a stake in the watershed must be
consensus reached on how the group envisions
health of the watershed to be in the future.
Existing legal constraints need to be considered.
Describe the objective in measurable terms
(ie. Increase number
turkeys by 25% or reduce soil erosion on forested land
Recognize the objective may change later as more information
available. For instance, an initial objective may be to
simply "increase trout population." Later your group
will have the
necessary information to
refine the objective to "increase trout
population by 225%."
Keep objectives acceptable and achievable. Partners need to
ask themselves if
they can live with the objective and if they
it is achievable.
The emphasis during this stage is to develop and analyze alternatives, then come to
consensus on a game plan that everyone in the partnership can live with.
There are three parts of the game plan your group will need to consider. They are:
Selecting management alternatives. These are some watershed management
alternatives your partners will explore with the goal of selecting one or more to
implement. Examples include:
Construction site erosion control
Filter or buffer strips
Reduced dumping of oil and/or chemicals in storm sewers
Irrigation water conservation
Home water conservation
Septic system maintenance
Alternative livestock watering sources
Roadside erosion control
Prime farmland protection
Private/rural road maintenance
Storm water management
Riparian zone management
Developing the Action Plan. These are the ways the partnership will
promote the use of the management alternative(s) selected (see above). Examples include:
Local ordinances or zoning
Determining how to measure progress. This will enable the group to
measure progress toward the objective(s). Obviously a baseline for comparing progress will
be needed. Examples:
Secchi disc readings
Nitrate strip tests
Acres managed in a specific way
Land use inventory
The following describes the process for selecting the best management alternatives for
your watershed as well as how to develop the action plan.
Selecting management alternatives.
The first step in selecting management alternatives is to develop a "long list"
of management alternatives that could help achieve the objective(s). Many watershed
partnerships rely on their advisory team to assist them with this. It's important to list
as many alternatives as possible. Do not try to rank them at this point.
Next, using your advisory team, try to determine the effectiveness of each of the
alternatives. Be sure to consider economic, social, and enivonmental factors.
Watershed computer models
Your advisory team may use a watershed computer model. A model is a
tool that watershed planners use to help them understand the cause and effect
relationships within a watershed.
Just like a model plane is a representation of the real plane, a watershed model can
represent a real watershed. Different types of models allow you to study different
For example, one model may look at surface runoff of nutrients and pesticides while
another might compare the economics of management practices.
The advisory team might have to use several models to address both economic and
environmental concerns within your watershed.
Models are just the beginning....
Watershed models aren't an end product, they allow you to compare differing strategies to
see what might be the most economically and environmentally effective. They provide you
with information to make decisions on what alternatives to consider. The partnership must
use the results of the models plus the social acceptability of those results. Only after
all factors are taken into account will a decision be acceptable.
Don't forget to document
Be sure to document the alternatives and corresponding advantages/disadvantages by adding
this information to the other watershed plan documents.
The information will probably be needed later when you are developing brochures and
other educational tools for implementing your group's plan. In addition, if the group
tries to obtain outside financial assistance, the documentation will be needed to support
the request for funding.
Group Exercise: Selecting management alternatives
1. List an alternative on a sheet of paper and tape to the wall. Do this
each of the alternatives.
2. Below each alternative, list advantages/disadvantages. The
partnership may want
to consider the following factors:
3. Using consensus, rate each alternative giving consideration to the
its success. (You may wish to list some implemen-
tation strategies for several of the top alternatives before you do this.)
For more information about brainstorming and reaching concensus see Leading & Communicating, Building Local Partnerships, and Managing Conflict Guides.
Developing an action plan.
By now you and your partners have a vision of the watershed in the future (purpose
statement). The watershed partnership also has set objectives and selected management
alternatives for achieving those objectives. Now attention needs to be focused on how to
make the selected alternatives a reality. Most watershed partnerships begin this process
with an Action Plan.
What is an action plan?
An Action Plan is simply a list of the actions the group decides to do, who is responsible
and when it's to be done. Chances are local businesses and government agencies already use
a similar plan for organizing their actions. They may call it something else, but most
plans use the same format.
Putting together an action plan.
To put together an Action Plan, first list all objectives. Under each objective, list the
selected management alternatives.
Once all the selected alternatives have been listed, leave blanks for actions,
responsibilities and time periods. Make copies for each partner. Brainstorm action items
as a group. This will get partners thinking about ways to get the job done. Partners may
want to take the papers home and fill in the blanks. Set a time for the partnership to get
back together to share their thoughts. When the group gets back together, one person needs
to record all the action ideas in one place.
Partners then combine similar actions and select the top three to five choices for each
of the selected alternatives. These actions become the partnership's focus.
Next, an individual or small group needs to become responsible for the action. This is
a good time to look around the watershed for groups who haven't been as involved as they
would like to be and get them involved. (See Building Local Partnerships guide for
After responsibilities have been determined, a realistic time period for completing the
action can be set. Be sure all groups involved understand their responsiblities and the
Here is a sample action plan:
Objective: Reduce sediment and improve habitat for trout and other sport fish in
|Establish buffer strips
||Involve FFA in buffer strip establishment throughout watershed
|Develop brochure to show benefits and explain cost share
|Using computer-aided graphics, depict before and after appearance
|Reduce cropland erosion 4 T/acre
||Involve local ag retailers in developing no-till demonstration plot
|Conduct field day
||Local Vo-Ag instructors
|Apply for equipment buydown funds through water quality agency
|Secure rental equipment through local cons. districts and/or dealers
|Establish vegetation -- SE shore
||Secure willows and other native plants/seeds for shoreline.
|Involve youth and civic groups in weekend watershed festival.
||Al B. Wett
|Reduce construction erosion
||Work with developers to plan for erosion control methods
|Conduct demonstration of erosion control methods
||City of Grenville
|Explore county-wide construction ordinances
|Find sponsor for watershed contractor of the year award
|Invite media to cover award and distribute press release
|Develop display for local fairs and mall shows.
|Construct wetland at creek inlet.
||Apply for funding plan development.
|Explore possibilities with J Moore, landowner.
|Reduce phosphorous runoff from cropland
||Use demonstration field to show the economic benefits of annual soil tests
||R. Greene Farms
||Feb - Oct 199X
|Conduct field day at demonstration field to see differences in rates
||Farm Sales Inc.
|Explore a group discount for soil and manure nutrient tests
|Develop fact sheets on relationship between phosphorous and pH
|Conduct seminar using university and other crop/nutrient/soil specialists
|Explore possibility of manure brokerage service
||Local Bank & Trust
|Reduce phosphorous runoff from suburban areas
||Develop and distribute brochure for retailers to use with fertilizer displays
||Nov - Apr 199X
|Promote washing cars on lawn instead of driveway
|Use secchi disc method of monitoring turbidity in lake
||Involve Lake Association in weekly monitoring and progress reports
|Include periodic progress reports in watershed newsletter
|Present report for annual meeting and through the local news media
||S. Hubble & Lake Assoc.
|Use strips to monitor phosphorous in lake and creek
||Involve Grenville Highschool science classes in weekly monitoring
|Include periodic progress reports in watershed newsletter
|Present report at annual meeting and through the local news media
||R Clark & students
|Track number of fishing and hunting licenses sold
||Present report at annual meeting and through the local news media
Types of actions.
There are four main types of actions that most watershed partnerships consider.
Most groups use a combination of the first two types of actions (information/education
and technical assistance). Some groups also use funding. Few use regulatory approaches.
Very few use all four types.
Information/education. Few people will make changes without
understanding what changes need to occur, why change is needed, how to make the change,
and how the change will affect the individual.
Technical assistance. Many people need more than just information about
the change, but also require some type of assistance. This may take many forms including
one-on-one discussion, demonstration, drawings and plans, implementation instruction
Funding. In some cases change will cause an economic hardship. This is
when many watershed partnerships include cost-share and other forms of financial
assistance in action plans.
Regulatory. Occassionally local ordinances, zoning or other types of
regulation are necessary. Partnerships are strongly encouraged to explore other options
before recommending this action. Rarely is this a positive action for all stakeholders
which makes consensus very difficult to reach.
Funding your actions.
Some of the actions your group has selected will require little, if any, money to do.
Often actions require donated time or materials from local individuals, organizations,
businesses or industry.
Some actions--like cost-share incentives or compensation--do require funding. This is
when your group will need to explore funding options. In fact, many watershed partnerships
make obtaining financial assistance an action. Responsible individuals or groups are
assigned and a time frame agreed upon.
Due to the time and paperwork associated with federal and state funding, most groups
start by looking for funding locally. Local utilities, non-profit organizations, and
others have funded watershed management actions.
This is also a good time to ask for assistance in putting together a workshop on grant
proposals. Invite local and state specialists to inform your partnership on the art of
grant writing. Many organizations conduct workshops specifically on this topic.
It won't take long to list more actions than your group can possibly do. This is why the
group will need to prioritize the actions. When prioritizing, be sure to consider the
Return on funds to be invested
Time and other non-financial resources
Ability to get the action done
Early successes motivate more action
Some actions rely on other actions for success
Be sure to include your advisory team in this process. They may have experience in
determing which actions depend on others and how to get the most return on your
investment. For example, it's important to get preventive actions (such as erosion control
practices) underway before taking restoration actions (such as dredging a lake).
Measure & report progress.
In addition to establishing a baseline prior to implementation, the partnership needs to
consider how to evaluate the effectiveness of the plan and the progress toward the
objective. This need not be expensive and should be included in the Action Plan.
For instance, turbid water can be measured with a simple secchi disc, pH can be
measured with a pH strip, nitrates and phosphorous can also be measured with a simple
indicator strip. Wildlife can be measured by an annual count or survey. Another good
barometer is the number of hunting and fishing licenses issued.
The method used for measuring change should be determined by the watershed partnership.
Again, partners may want to ask for technical assistance from local conservation groups or
You may also wish to enlist a youth group, lake association, conservation group or
other group to measure the partnership's progress.
Regardless of the measurement, it's very important to report progress back to both the
partnership and to the press. Only by everyone seeing progress will they continue to work
toward making the plan a success.
Review the plan.
As seasons go by, the watershed partnership will need to review the plan. Be sure to ask
the tough questions like, do we still need to do this? Why? What else can we do? Has our
vision changed? Do we have new or additional information that will change the objectives
or selected alternatives? What has been successful? Why? What could have been improved?
Whether it's the 500th fishing lisence or the 20th mile of buffer or the sighting of the
50th wild turkey or the first 24" secchi disc measurement; it's important to
This gives the partnership a feeling of accomplishment. But probably more importantly,
it gives credit to everyone who did their part in managing the watershed for the benefit
Sources of information.
To start down the road toward an effective local watershed partnership, you may want to
read some of these other guides from the Conservation Technology Information Center by
calling 765-494-9555. A $2.00 fee is charged to cover postage and handling.
Getting to Know Your Watershed
Leading & Communicating
Reflecting on Lakes
Groundwater & Surface Water: Understanding
Wetlands: A Key Link in Watershed Management
Guide to Information and Resources
Nonpoint Source Water Quality Contacts
This guide is one of a series of publications developed and
distributed by the Conservation Technology Information Center pertaining to water quality,
agricultural and natural resource management and watershed management. Please call
765-494-9555 for the latest listing. See our catalog
to order this online.
The author acknowledges the following sources of information that were used in
developing this guide. You may also find these publications helpful.
A Model Lake Plan for a Local Community.
Lowell Klessig, Buzz Sorge, Robert Korth, Michael Dresen, Jeff Bode, 1994, Madison, WI:
University of Wisconsin Extension Tel: 608-262-3346
Clean Water in Your Watershed: A Citizen's Guide to Watershed Protection.
Terrene Institute Tel: 202-833-8317
Managing Nonpoint Pollution: An Action Plan for Puget Sound Watersheds.
Puget Sound Water Quality Authority Tel: 206-464-7320
About this guide....
This guide is one of a series for people who want to organize a local partnership to
protect their watershed. The guides will not solve all your problems. They were designed
to provide guidance for going through the process of building a voluntary partnership,
developing a watershed management plan and implementing that plan. Because the
characteristics of each watershed are unique; you may wish to select and use the portions
of this guide that are applicable to your particular situation.
Although the series is written for watershed-based planning areas, the ideas and
process can be used for developing other types of plans (such as wildlife areas) to match
the concerns of the partnership. Regardless of the area, remember a long-term, integrated
perspective - based on a systematic, scientific assessment - can be used to address more
than one concern at a time.
Special thanks to the following professionals who carefully reviewed this guide. Their
experience and thoughtful guidance enriched it. Their time and insight is deeply
US EPA, Region 5, Water Division
USDA, Natural Resource Conservation Service
North Carolina State University
Extension Lake Management, University of Wisconsin
Puget Sound Water Quality Authority
National Pork Producers Council
Planner, Swan Creek Watershed
Tennessee Falley Authority
US EPA, Office of Wetlands, Oceans and Watersheds
The Know Your Watershed campaign is coordinated by the Conservation
Technology Information Center (CTIC), a nonprofit public/private partnership dedicated to
the advancement of environmentally beneficial and economically viable natural resource
systems. It provides information and data about agricultural and natural resource
management systems, practices and technologies. The center was established in 1982 under
the charter of the National Association of Conservation Districts.
Geographic Information System (GIS): A computerized system designed to support
the compiling, storing, retrieving,
analyzing and display of data for addressing planning, management and environmental decision
Aquifer: A geologic formation of porous rock, gravel of sand containing
Secchi Disc readings: Flat disc lowered into lake or still water until it just
disappears from sight. The distance it is lowered is the
reading. Usually in inches.
Watershed computer model: A tool that represents, through a set of rules and
procedures, a view of reality to depict watershed
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