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Water: Outreach & Communication

Wetlands and Watersheds

Wetlands are important elements of a watershed because they serve as the link between land and water resources.  Wetlands protection programs are most effective when coordinated with other surface and ground-water protection programs and with other resource management programs, such as flood control, water supply, protection of fish and wildlife, recreation, control of stormwater, and nonpoint source pollution. This fact sheet discusses the "why" and "how" of integrating these programs.

Why Use an Integrated Approach?

The quality of the Nation's wetlands and other water resources is directly linked to the quality of the environment surrounding these waters. However, resource protection programs have historically focused on single goals or a small set of goals. These programs have succeeded in identifying and controlling, to some degree, the larger point sources of pollution. Now it's time to use an approach that addresses the interconnections between water resources and the land, air, and water environment surrounding the resources.

What's a Watershed?

A watershed, also called a drainage basin, is the area in which all water, sediments, and dissolved materials flow or drain from the land into a common river, lake, ocean, or other body of water.

A watershed-based approach to water and wetlands protection considers the whole system, including other resource management programs that address land, air, and water, to successfully manage problems for a given aquatic resource.

The watershed approach thus includes not only the water resource, but also the surrounding land from which the water drains.  This area can be as large as the Mississippi River drainage basin or as small as a back yard.

How Does EPA Encourage an Integrated Approach?

EPA's Office of Water is actively pursuing a Watershed Protection Approach within EPA and with other agencies. EPA's Wetlands Division incorporates a watershed approach in much of its work with other agencies, States and other organizations. Current activities include the following:

  • developing guidance linking wetlands protection programs to watershed planning efforts
  • funding State watershed projects through State Wetland Protection Grants integrating a watershed approach into Federal floodplain management activities
  • supporting a series of national and regional meetings on wetlands and regional watershed planning.

Additional Resources

The Center for Watershed Protection Exit EPA Disclaimer developed for EPA a series of six articles on Wetlands & Watersheds that provide information on how and why to protect wetlands by managing them at the watershed scale. All of the articles are available for free on its website Exit EPA Disclaimer:

    • Article 1: Direct and Indirect Impacts of Land Development on Wetland Quality. This article reviews the direct and indirect impacts of urbanization on wetlands, and describes the benefits wetlands provide at the watershed scale.
    • Article 2: Using Local Watershed Plans to Protect Wetlands. This article presents detailed methods for integrating wetland management into the local watershed planning process.
    • Article 3: Adapting Watershed Tools to Protect Wetlands. This article describes 37 techniques for protecting wetlands through local programs and ordinances.
    • Article 4: A Local Ordinance to Protect Wetland Functions. This article outlines the key elements of an effective ordinance to protect wetlands from the indirect impacts of land development, and provides adaptable model ordinance language.
    • Article 5: The Next Generation of Stormwater Wetlands. This article revisits the design of stormwater wetland systems based on lessons learned from the field, and presents new concepts and design objectives for stormwater wetlands.
    • Article 6: The Importance of Protecting Vulnerable Streams and Wetlands at the Local Level. This article makes the case for expanded local protection of vulnerable streams and wetlands that may not be fully protected by state or federal law due to their perceived isolation from perennial or navigable waters. This article summarizes state and local approaches to closing this gap.

EPA's Nonpoint Source Control Branch developed the Handbook for Developing Watershed Plans to Restore and Protect Our Waters, EPA-841-B-08-002 (March 2008) to help communities, watershed organizations, and state, local, tribal and federal environmental agencies develop and implement watershed plans to meet water quality standards and protect water resources. In addition, EPA Region 5 developed Wetlands Supplement: Incorporating Wetlands into Watershed Planning (PDF) (130 pp, 1.4MB) (February 2013) as a supplement to the Watershed Planning Handbook. The purpose of the supplement is to encourage the inclusion of proactive wetland management into watershed plans.

A Partnership Agreement for Watershed Management between the U.S. Department of the Army Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (Office of Water) was signed on November 19, 2004.

For additional information, visit the Wetlands and Watersheds webpage.

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