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Water: Healthy Watersheds

Conservation Approaches & Tools

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Once healthy watersheds or healthy components of watersheds are identified, a variety of conservation and protection approaches are available. Examples of conservation and protection approaches and tools are listed below. These approaches are generally site-specific and tailored to the particular situation. Watershed managers are encouraged to use these examples as guidance in developing their own conservation and protection strategies. A combination of approaches has been found to be most effective at maintaining watershed health and integrity.

This page contains examples of some conservation approaches and tools that fall under the following categories:

Habitat and Biodiversity Conservation:

Aquatic Biodiversity Conservation Strategies
An EPA webpage describing a myriad of conservation approaches to protect aquatic biodiversity with links to specific programs and documents.

National Fish Habitat Action PlanNational Fish Habitat Action Plan Exit EPA Disclaimer
The National Fish Habitat Action Plan goals are to 1) protect and maintain intact and healthy aquatic systems, 2) prevent further degradation of fish habitats that have been adversely affected, 3) reverse declines in the quality and quantity of aquatic habitats to improve the overall health of fish and other aquatic organisms, and 4) increase the quality and quantity of fish habitats that support a broad natural diversity of fish and other aquatic species.

Habitat Appraisal and Barter (HAB) Method for Fish and Wildlife Habitat Assessment Exit EPA Disclaimer
The HAB was developed in 2001 by the Northwest Habitat Institute and Oregon Department of Transportation to establish a statewide mitigation banking program. The HAB method relies on species-habitat-function relationship information in the Interactive Habitat Biodiversity Information System (IBIS) to develop detailed habitat maps, document current conditions, track intrinsic habitat value, develop habitat composition and potential species at a site, establish a consistent method to assess multiple habitats and species, infer future conditions, and provide credit and debit values for a site.


The Southeast Aquatic Resources Partnership Exit EPA Disclaimer
Coordinates amongst various programs and organizations to create a cross-boundary commitment to protecting aquatic resources of the southeastern United States and is a partnership of the National Fish Habitat Action Plan.

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Green Infrastructure and Landscape Conservation:

Landscope Exit EPA Disclaimer
The National Geographic Society and NatureServe have created this website to inspire and promote place-based conservation through interactive maps and tools for exploring natural resource issues across the United States.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s EcoLogical program is an "ecosystem approach to developing infrastructure projects." Program goals include protection of larger scale, multi-resource ecosystems and reduced habitat fragmentation.

The Conservation Fund’s Green Infrastructure Leadership Program Exit EPA Disclaimer
A cooperative effort to build the capacity of local communities to make green infrastructure an integral part of their planning process.

Green Infrastructure Center Exit EPA Disclaimer
The Green Infrastructure Center provides case studies, a curriculum, and other green infrastructure resources.  

Growing with Green Infrastructure (PDF) (20 pp, 4.54MB) Exit EPA Disclaimer
A guidebook on green infrastructure from The Heritage Conservancy.

Conservation Assessment and Prioritization System (CAPS) Exit EPA Disclaimer
CAPS is a computer software program designed to assess the ecological integrity and biodiversity value of every location based on natural community-specific models, in order to help prioritize lands for conservation action based on their assessed ecological value.

Watershed Forestry Resource Guide Exit EPA Disclaimer
The Watershed Forestry Resource Guide provides tools and information for managing forest resources in both urban and rural environments with the goal of protecting and restoring water quality.


Conservation in America:  State Government Incentives for Habitat Conservation (PDF) (108 pp, 264K) Exit EPA Disclaimer
The Defenders of Wildlife produced this report to document state level efforts at habitat conservation throughout the nation. Examples are provided from each state and contact information is available.

One North Carolina Naturally Program Exit EPA Disclaimer
Leads the development and implementation of a comprehensive statewide conservation plan.

Closing The Gaps in Florida’s Wildlife Habitat Conservation System (PDF) [BROKEN] Exit EPA Disclaimer
Identifies a statewide system of landscape hubs and conservation corridors to conserve critical elements of Florida’s native ecosystems and maintain connectivity among ecological systems and processes.


Green Infrastructure Planning in Virginia Exit EPA Disclaimer
The Green Infrastructure Center is conducting seven field tests of green infrastructure planning across the state in a diversity of ecoregions and different development patterns (urban, suburban and rural) to create a framework for green infrastructure mapping and assessment that can be used statewide and across the region. A methods guidebook will be published in 2010.  A summary of current demonstration projects is listed on the center’s website.

Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan
The Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan integrates all natural resource protection and land use planning activities into one plan that reflects community values.

Financing Land Preservation in West Virginia’s Cacapon and Lost River Watershed (PDF) (24 pp, 365K) Exit EPA Disclaimer
This report, developed by the staff at the Environmental Finance Center, outlines the core components of a sustainable, effective financing strategy, and provides detailed next steps and recommendations for implementation in West Virginia’s Cacapon and Lost River Watershed.

Alachua County Green Infrastructure Assessment (PDF) (51 pp, 6.14MB) Exit EPA Disclaimer
Alachua County, Florida is using a joint land acquisition and land use regulation program to protect water quality, wildlife habitat, and outdoor recreation. Costing the average property owner just $30 per year, the program will protect 15,000 acres of land over a 20-year period with an estimated worth over $60 million. Land Development Codes were adopted to protect green infrastructure such as wetlands, surface waters, floodplains, listed species habitat, and strategic ecosystems.

Economic Benefits of Natural Land Conservation:  Case Study of NE Florida (PDF) [BROKEN] (75 pp, 624K) Exit EPA Disclaimer
This case study of economic benefits of natural lands focuses on the northeast Florida counties of Duval, Clay, St. Johns and Putnam. The goal is to help readers envision the role and importance of the region’s landscape resources to its economy.

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River Corridor Protection:


Vermont River Corridor Planning, Protection, and Restoration Exit EPA Disclaimer
The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources’ River Management Program promotes the planning, designing, and protecting of river corridors that will accommodate stream meander and floodplain processes as the most economically and environmentally sustainable river management alternative. The River Management Program envisions a time when the protection and wise management of river corridors will diminish the need for river restoration projects.

Vermont River Corridor Protection Guide (PDF) (26 pp, 593K) Exit EPA Disclaimer
Vermont has produced a River Corridor Protection Guide to explain the science behind river corridors and offer detailed procedures and tools for corridor delineation. Vermont uses the river corridor in its work with landowners and town, state, and federal agencies as a science-based river and riparian land use planning, conservation, and management tool to avoid conflicts between human investments and the dynamics of rivers.

Vermont Guide to River Corridor Easements (PDF) (25 pp, 1.5MB) Exit EPA Disclaimer
The Guide to River Corridor Easements includes deeded land use and channel management restrictions for protecting certain reaches of river. The transfer of channel management rights is a notable aspect of this easement, offering a unique tool for restoring watersheds and reducing hazards by protecting natural river processes at key locations.

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Land Protection Programs and Local Land Use Ordinances:

Planner’s Guide to Wetland Buffers for Local GovernmentsPlanner’s Guide to Wetland Buffers for Local Governments, Environmental Law Institute Exit EPA Disclaimer 
Based on The Environmental Law Institute’s detailed examination of more than 50 enacted wetland buffer ordinances around the nation and nine model ordinances, as well as several hundred scientific studies and analyses of buffer performance, the Planner's Guide to Wetland Buffers for Local Governments identifies both the state-of-the-art and the range of current practice in protection of wetland buffers by local governments.

A Local Ordinance to Protect Wetland Functions (PDF) (40 pp, 2.29MB) Exit EPA Disclaimer
The Center for Watershed Protection provides guidance and a model for developing a local ordinance to protect wetland functions.

Smart Growth for Clean Water: Helping Communities Address the Water Quality Impacts of Sprawl (PDF) (66 pp, 6.03MB) Exit EPA Disclaimer
This Smart Growth for Clean Water report shares ideas for using smart growth to advance clean water goals based on the experiences of communities across the nation.

Conservation Development Exit EPA Disclaimer
Conservation development is an approach combining residential construction with land protection that allows for economic development while preserving natural resources. It can be an appropriate strategy in areas where development is inevitable and when conservation funds are low.

Protecting Water Resources with Higher Density Development (PDF) (46 pp, 1.35MB)
This EPA study shows that higher-density development can have less of an impact on water quality than “sprawling” development.

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Columbia Basin Water Transactions Program (CBWTP) Exit EPA Disclaimer
The CBWTP seeks creative solutions to maintaining instream flows at ecologically acceptable levels while providing water users with sufficient supplies. Methods used include (1) water acquisitions, (2) boosting efficiency, (3) conserving habitat, (4) rethinking the source, (5) rotational pools, and (6) water banking.

Southern Instream Flow Network Exit EPA Disclaimer
The Southern Instream Flow Network is being created by the partners of the Southeast Aquatic Resources Partnership to develop, coordinate, and support efforts of state-level teams working on instream flow policies and protection, and to leverage experience and resources among the 15 states in the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.


Florida’s Water Management Districts Exit EPA Disclaimer
Florida’s Water Management Districts (WMDs) divide the state into 5 districts based on river basin boundaries rather than political divisions. The 5 WMDs, in coordination with the Department of Environmental Protection, integrate management of land and water resources throughout the state. Each district has the authority to set minimum flow standards and minimum levels of groundwater in the district’s aquifers.

International Instream Flow Program Initiative (PDF) (201 pp, 2.07MB) Exit EPA Disclaimer
This paper is a status report of State and Provincial Instream Flow programs in the United States and Canada. It identifies trends and opportunities to help state and provincial fish and wildlife management agencies participate in flow management activities.

Massachusetts Water Policy (PDF) (34 pp, 1.5MB)
The 2004 Massachusetts Water Policy seeks to proactively protect ecological resources and improve water supplies throughout the state by addressing water quantity and quality through smart growth planning.

Stream Flow : The Next Two Decades; Balancing Human Use and Ecological Health (PDF) (18 pp, 700K)
Connecticut is proposing revisions to its Stream Flow Standards, which would expand the coverage of the stream flow standards to include all rivers and streams. The standards would balance the needs of humans to use water for drinking, washing, fire protection, irrigation, manufacturing, and recreation, with the needs of fish and wildlife, that also rely upon the availability of water to sustain healthy, natural communities.

Sustainable Watershed Management: Priorities for Action (PDF) (3 pp, 915K) Exit EPA Disclaimer
This document from the Massachusetts Audubon Society details opportunities for improving water resource management in Massachusetts.

Water Resource Management and Planning: A Guide for Communities (PDF) (29 pp, 839K) Exit EPA Disclaimer
This guidance from Massachusetts is designed to explain the types of water management planning reports towns and communities can use when approaching their particular wastewater, drinking water, and stormwater issues.


Meeting Urban Water Demands While Protecting Rivers: Rivanna River, Virginia (PDF) (3 pp, 267K) Exit EPA Disclaimer
The Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority, working with The Nature Conservancy, has developed a new water supply plan that meets growing water demands and improves river ecosystem health. The new plan mimics natural flow regimes through controlled dam releases while ensuring adequate water supplies during drought periods and under increasing demand.

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