The Nature Conservancy sets regional freshwater priorities by defining a suite of areas to focus and optimize conservation efforts. River and large lake basins, watersheds, catchments, or freshwater ecoregions are the most commonly chosen regions for setting freshwater priorities.

These differ from most terrestrial planning regions because these boundaries delimit major patterns of freshwater biodiversity and processes that generate and maintain freshwater habitats.

In addition to these differences, direct connectivity of different areas in order to maintain environmental and ecological processes, such as sources and movement of flowing water and nutrients, is an important primary component of generating a suite of priorities which requires different perspectives on optimizing solutions for defining these areas.

The areas defined as regional priorities are generally a collective vision considered necessary to conserve in order to maintain the variety of species, communities, geophysical settings, ecological processes and connectivity representative of the selected region of interest. These conservation “visions”:

  • provide maps and supporting information (e.g., databases, analytical results, etc.) on the types and patterns of biodiversity, threats, and enabling conditions;
  • galvanize and organize conservation efforts of a variety of partners and stakeholders within a given region;
  • focus fundraising to support freshwater conservation efforts; and
  • provide a comprehensive set of areas in which a sub-sets can be selected to implement different types of conservation actions.

Sub-sets of regional priorities can be selected using criteria such as patterns of threats, opportunities, optimizing existing strategies and capacities, urgency or opportunities for leveraging actions.  More recently, regional priority setting has included approaches to maximize return on investments of certain strategies, ecosystem services, and identifying areas important for maintaining important processes, as separate priorities or as part of the overall priority setting.