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Water: Healthy Watersheds

Healthy Watersheds Program

Much of the focus of EPA’s water quality programs has been on restoring impaired water bodies and reducing pollutant levels in water bodies. While EPA and our state, tribal, and other partners have made and continue to make considerable progress in this important work, we recognize the need to also protect and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of our Nation’s waters (CWA Section 101(a) objective) 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.

Healthy Watersheds Program Vision

Protect and maintain the aquatic ecological integrity of watersheds and supporting habitat networks to ensure that future generations may enjoy these resources and the social and economic benefits that they provide.

EPA acknowledged the need to increase protection of healthy watersheds in 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 the next two years and beyond. EPA’s Strategic Plan (2014-18) and the National Water Program Guidance (2011-14) 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). EPA created the Healthy Watersheds Program to enhance our ability to protect healthy aquatic ecosystems and their watersheds.


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Healthy Watersheds Program Goals

  • Identify, protect, and maintain a network of healthy watersheds and supportive green infrastructure across the United States
  • Integrate protection of healthy watersheds into EPA programs
  • Increase awareness and understanding of the importance of protecting our remaining healthy watersheds and the range of management actions needed to protect and avoid adverse impacts to those healthy watersheds.

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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.

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