Watershed Management Approach

Tennessee began the watershed approach 1996 with the goals of making the process more Efficient (administratively), more Effective (consistent with basic ecological principles), and more Equitable (increase consistency in management decisions). The division continues to apply these 3-E principles as we synchronize planning, monitoring, water quality assessment, TMDL development, and permitting activities through the watershed cycle.

The Watershed Approach is a decision-making process that reflects a strategy for information collection and analysis as well as an understanding of the roles, priorities, and responsibilities of all stakeholders within a watershed. The Watershed Approach is based on the concept that many water quality problems, like the accumulation of pollutants, are best addressed at the watershed level. In addition, a watershed focus helps identify the most cost-effective pollution control strategies to meet clean water goals.

Watersheds are appropriate as organizational units because they have identifiable landscape features with readily identifiable boundaries that integrate terrestrial, aquatic, and geologic features. Focusing on the whole watershed helps reach the best balance among efforts to control point source pollution and polluted runoff as well as protect drinking water sources and sensitive natural resources such as wetlands.

Four main features are typical of the Watershed Approach: 1) identifying and prioritizing water quality challenges in the watershed, 2) developing increased public involvement, 3) coordinating activities with other agencies, and 4) measuring success through increased and more efficient monitoring and other data gathering.

An additional characteristic of the Watershed Approach is that it complements and coordinates other environmental activities. This allows for close cooperation with local citizen groups, local governments and other state and federal agencies. When all permitted dischargers are considered together, agencies are better able to focus on those controls necessary to produce measurable improvements in water quality. This also results in a more efficient process: It encourages agencies to focus staff and financial resources on prioritized geographic locations and makes it easier to coordinate between agencies and individuals with an interest in solving water quality problems.

Traditional activities like permitting, planning, and monitoring are also coordinated in the Watershed Approach.

Benefits of the Watershed Approach include:

  • Focus on water quality goals and ecological integrity rather than on program activities.
  • Improve the basis for management decisions through consideration of both point and nonpoint source stressors. A watershed strategy improves the scientific basis for decision making and focuses management efforts on basins and watersheds where they are most needed. Both point and nonpoint control strategies are more effective under a watershed approach because the approach promotes timely and focused development of TMDLs or alternatives.
  • Enhance program efficiency. A watershed focus can improve the efficiency of water management programs by facilitating consolidation of programs within each watershed. For example, handling all point source dischargers in a watershed at the same time reduces administrative costs due to the potential to combine hearings and notices as well as allowing staff to focus on more limited areas in a sequential fashion.
  • Improve coordination between federal, state and local agencies, including data sharing, pooling of resources, and coordinated assessment and control strategies.
  • Increase public engagement. The Watershed Approach provides opportunities for stakeholders to increase their awareness of water-related issues and inform staff about their knowledge of the watershed. Participation is by way of public meetings over the five-year watershed management cycle as well as meetings at stakeholder's request. Additional opportunities are provided through the Department of Environment and Conservation homepage and direct contact with local Environmental Field Offices and social media.
  • Greater consistency and responsiveness. Developing goals and management plans for a basin or watershed with stakeholder involvement results in increased responsiveness to the public and consistency in determining management actions.
  • The Watershed Approach represents awareness that restoring and maintaining our waters requires crossing traditional barriers (point vs. nonpoint sources of pollution, county boundaries) when designing solutions. These solutions increasingly rely on participation by both public and private sectors, where citizens, elected officials, and technical personnel all have opportunity to participate. This integrated approach mirrors the complicated relationships in which people live, work and recreate in the watershed, and suggests a comprehensive, watershed-based and community-based approach is needed to address these.