Healthy Watersheds Protection

What EPA is Doing for Healthy Watersheds

Healthy Watersheds Initiative National Framework and Action Plan 2011Healthy Watersheds Initiative Action PlanMuch of the focus of EPA’s water quality programs for the past four decades has been on restoring impaired waters and reducing pollutant levels in waterways. While EPA and our state, tribal and other partners have made and continue to make considerable progress in this important task, we recognize the need to also protect and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of our Nation’s waters as intended by Congress. The Committee Report written in support of the 1972 Federal Water Pollution Control Act amendments clarified that the term integrity "…refers to a condition in which the natural structure and function of ecosystems is [sic] maintained," rather than simply improving water quality in a narrow sense. Protection of healthy functioning watersheds is essential for not only ensuring that restored water bodies are maintained but also so that we can continue to enjoy the ecological services healthy watersheds provide.

EPA acknowledged the need to increase protection of healthy watersheds in the document Coming Together for Clean Water: EPA’s Strategy to Protect America’s Waters (2011). The Strategy identified increased focus on the protection of source waters and healthy watersheds as one of the five areas guiding the implementation efforts and actions to meet the Strategic Plan objectives in coming years. EPA's periodically updated Strategic Plan and the National Water Program Guidance address this need as a key national strategy (i.e., EPA will work with states and tribes to strengthen capacities to identify and protect high quality waters).

The EPA Office of Water created the Healthy Watersheds Program to bring more emphasis to protecting high quality waters under the Clean Water Act (CWA) objective, “…to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters.” This program takes a non-regulatory, collaborative approach to maintaining clean waters by supporting EPA and its partners in assessing and protecting watershed health through CWA programs.

Healthy Watersheds Program Goals

  • Support states and tribes in their efforts to identify, protect and maintain healthy watersheds across the United States.
  • Further integrate protection of healthy watersheds into EPA Clean Water Act programs.
  • Promote the aquatic protection component in partnering with other government, non-government and private entities involved in landscape conservation.
  • Increase awareness of the value of protecting healthy watersheds and improve understanding of the range of management actions needed to avoid adverse impacts.

Key Elements of the Healthy Watersheds Program

The Healthy Watersheds Program provides a strategic framework and tools for holistic watershed protection for state, tribal and local programs. The Healthy Watersheds Program both integrates systems-based healthy watersheds protection into EPA CWA programs and promotes development of state, tribal and large basin healthy watershed protection strategies that leverage programs and resources across land and aquatic ecosystem protection agencies and of other partners.

Key elements include:

  • Partnerships are established to identify and protect healthy watersheds.
  • Healthy watersheds are identified by states and tribes with their partners using scientifically-sound, integrated assessments.
  • Healthy watersheds are listed, tracked, maintained and increased in number.
  • Healthy watersheds are protected and, if applicable, enhanced using the best regulatory and non-regulatory tools.
  • Progress on protecting healthy watersheds is measured and tied to securing and raising the overall goals of EPA's Water Program, including direct support of the public health and environmental goals established in EPA's Strategic Plan.

Healthy Watersheds Assessment Projects

One challenge facing efforts to protect healthy watersheds is insufficient information about healthy watersheds, their condition and vulnerability in many parts of the nation. Although public and private efforts have made progress identifying and protecting exceptional watersheds in some areas, a better and more consistent information base from which to consider and act on protection is needed. Healthy watersheds assessments provide a crucial link between identifying healthy watersheds in the first place and protecting their valued attributes against the most serious risks they face. EPA has collaborated with several state governments and watershed groups in developing healthy watershed assessments that can aid their future protection efforts. Currently, EPA is developing watershed assessment data and Preliminary Healthy Watersheds Assessments across the nation to assist a broader array of healthy watersheds protection partners. Details on healthy watersheds assessment are found in this website.

The Healthy Watershed Grants Consortium

Healthy watersheds protection occurs through a wide variety of techniques and approaches, many that far exceed the limits of EPA’s resources and roles. Through a multi-year cooperative agreement awarded in 2015, EPA is helping to support watershed protection via a healthy watershed grants consortium. This consortium brings together like-minded partners from all levels of government, private organizations and industry to support individual watershed protection projects through grants, using leveraged funding from government and non-government sources together. Details on healthy watersheds grants will be posted in this website as individual grants and projects come together.

Integrating Watershed Protection with Other EPA Responsibilities

To achieve the goals of the Clean Water Act (CWA), EPA and states have implemented a variety of programs to establish surface water quality standards, assess the condition of waters, control nonpoint source pollution, regulate point source discharges and, protect source waters, estuaries, oceans, and wetlands. Integrating healthy watersheds protection into CWA programs will help both maintain healthy watersheds and ensure sustainability of restored watersheds.

A Long-Term Vision for Assessment, Restoration, and Protection under the Clean Water Act Section 303(d) Program
In December 2013, EPA released a new collaborative framework for implementing CWA Section 303(d) titled A Long-Term Vision for Assessment, Restoration, and Protection under the Clean Water Act Section 303(d) Program. A key component of the Vision is a Protection Goal to encourage a systematic consideration of management actions to prevent impairments in healthy waters. The Protection Goal calls for identification of priorities, approaches, and schedules for protecting healthy waters that is consistent with procedures used for impaired waters.

Nonpoint Source Program and Grants Guidelines for States and Territories 
The EPA 2014 Nonpoint Source Program and Grants Guidelines for States and Territories outline requirements that apply to recipients of nonpoint source pollution management grants funded under CWA Section 319. The guidelines include a provision to fund watershed protection projects where a state has identified protection of high quality waters as a priority.

Maintaining Healthy Watersheds in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Exit
The 2014 Chesapeake Watershed Agreement contained a Healthy Watersheds Goal: sustain state-identified healthy waters and watersheds recognized for their high quality and/or high ecological value with an outcome of 100 percent of state-identified currently healthy waters and watersheds remaining healthy. The Chesapeake Bay Program Maintain Healthy Watersheds Goal Implementation Team is developing methods to track watershed health and protection status. Tracking measures are reported on the Chesapeake Stat website.

EPA Healthy Watersheds Program Contacts

EPA Headquarters

Doug Norton ( Healthy Watersheds Program Coordinator 202-566-1221
Lynda Hall ( Chief, Nonpoint Source Control Branch 202-566-1210

Region 1
Trish Garrigan ( 617-918-1583

Region 2
Mario Paula ( 212-637-3819

Region 3
Bill Jenkins (  215-814-2911

Region 4
Veronica Fasselt ( 404-562-9471

Region 5
Paul Thomas ( 312-886-7742

Region 6
Brian Fontenot ( 214-665-7286

Region 7
Leah Medley ( 913-551-7167

Region 8
Peter Ismert ( 303-312-6215

Region 9
Sam Ziegler ( 415-972-3399

Region 10
Krista Mendelman ( 206-553-1571

Chesapeake Bay Program Office
Carin Bisland ( 410-267-5732

Gulf of Mexico Program Office
Lael Butler ( 228-688-1576