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Water: Healthy Watersheds

Healthy Watersheds

Our nation has made significant progress in cleaning up polluted waters. Yet, while we devote substantial resources to restoring impaired waters, we continue to experience the loss of some of our remaining healthy aquatic ecosystems. Some key statistics provide clear evidence of both recent and ongoing declines in our aquatic resources.

  • Over the last 50 years, coastal and freshwater wetlands have declined; surface water and groundwater withdrawals have increased by 46%; and non-native fish have established themselves in many watersheds (Heinz Center, 2008).
  • A recent national water quality survey of the nation's wadeable streams showed that 42% of the nation's stream length is in poor biological condition and 25% is in fair biological condition (U.S. EPA, 2006).
  • Nearly 40% of fish in North American freshwater streams, rivers, and lakes are found to be vulnerable, threatened, or endangered; nearly twice as many as were included on the imperiled list from a similar survey conducted in 1989 (Jelks et al., 2008).

The objective of the federal Clean Water Act is to "restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation's waters." While other EPA programs focus on restoring impaired waters, the Healthy Watersheds Initiative augments the watershed approach with proactive, holistic aquatic ecosystem conservation and protection. The Healthy Watersheds Initiative includes both assessment and management approaches that encourage states, local governments, watershed organizations, and others to take a strategic, systems approach to conserve healthy components of watersheds, and, therefore, avoid additional water quality impairments in the future.

This Web site provides information on Healthy Watersheds, including:


Concept, Approach and Benefits: Approaches and benefits of conserving and protecting healthy watersheds.

Assessment Framework: A systems approach to watershed assessment.

Examples of Assessments: Current assessment approaches being used by regions, states, and communities.

Conservation Approaches & Tools: Conservation and protection approaches used by states and communities for ensuring healthy watersheds remain intact.

Outreach Tools: Strategies and resources for watershed managers to encourage stakeholder engagement in conservation and protection of healthy watersheds.

Where You Live: Links to projects at the national, regional, state, and local scales.

Publications: Related documents.

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