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Watershed Approach Handbook: Improving Outcomes and Increasing Benefits Associated with Wetland and Stream Restoration and Protection Projects


Watershed Approach Handbook Nature conservancy

Tapping Full Potential: Improving Benefits from Wetland, Stream Conservation Projects

New Handbook Shows How a Watershed Approach Can Maximize Project Benefits

ARLINGTON, VA (September 18, 2014) –The Environmental Law Institute (ELI) and The Nature Conservancy have released a new handbook to advance the use of a watershed approach in the selection, design and siting of wetland and stream restoration and protection projects, including projects required by compensatory mitigation.
The joint report, Watershed Approach Handbook: Improving Outcomes and Increasing Benefits Associated with Wetland and Stream Restoration Projects, demonstrates how using a watershed approach can help ensure that these projects also contribute to goals of improved water quality, increased flood mitigation, improved quality and quantity of habitat, and increases in other services and benefits.
“It is estimated that more than $2.9 billion a year is spent on wetland and stream protection and restoration through the U.S. wetland mitigation program, and many tens or hundreds of millions more through other restoration efforts,” stated Jessica Wilkinson, senior policy advisor for mitigation at The Nature Conservancy and a co-author of the handbook. “This is a tremendous investment in conservation, but the results haven’t yet achieved their full potential. More can be done, and the watershed approach is an attempt to improve site selection for these projects, so we can improve their performance and maximize the return on investment.”
“Understanding the critical issues and needs within a watershed and allowing for dynamic watershed processes and conditions are critical to achieving successful restoration and protection projects,” says ELI Policy and Science Analyst Dr. Rebecca Kihslinger, co-author of the guide. “Watersheds provide the framework within which restoration and protection projects can be evaluated and prioritized based on their ability to provide desired benefits and ecosystem services, offset new or previous impacts, and help achieve preferred future conditions.”
A watershed approach offers a concrete, science-informed mechanism for improving site selection for wetland and stream restoration and protection projects, thereby improving their performance and maximizing conservation outcomes. By explicitly considering the issues and needs within a watershed and the various existing agency plans and goals—such as water quality goals or habitat protection goals—and making them relevant to wetland and stream restoration projects, the watershed approach provides the ability to have multiple programs work together to achieve these goals. Watershed health is more likely to improve with an increased understanding of its needs, better site selection for restoration and protection projects, and an alignment of regulatory and non-regulatory wetland and stream restoration and protection efforts.
“This handbook can serve as a go-to manual for any group or agency working on wetland and stream restoration or protection projects,” added The Nature Conservancy’s Deputy Director of the North America Freshwater Program Mark P. Smith. “The approach helps to coordinate protection and restoration projects across a wide variety of programs and groups, allowing each individual project to play a role in a larger effort to address the most pressing environmental needs and help achieve a larger overall environmental benefit. Equally important, using a watershed approach can ease the regulatory approval process—and thereby help ensure infrastructure projects like highways get their regulatory approvals more quickly.”
The project is a collaborative effort of The Nature Conservancy and ELI, reflecting many years of work the groups conducted with multiple partners.
The U.S. EPA funded the development of this handbook. Funding from private sources, including the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and Joyce Foundation, supported three pilot watershed approach projects—one each in Georgia, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.
The handbook provides an overall framework for the spectrum of watershed approaches, examples of specific types of these approaches, examples of types of analyses that may be useful for using one, and a list of national data sources that might inform all of the above. It also provides some guidance and lessons learned about considerations when developing wetland and stream protection and restoration projects.