Chapter 2 : Partnerships for Watershed Management

2.1 Introduction
2.2 Reservoir Managers versus Watershed Management
2.3 Common Watershed Problems
2.4 Links between Watersheds and Reservoir Fish
2.5 Iowa’s Lake and Watershed Management Program
2.6 Tennessee Valley Authority’s Watershed Partnerships
2.7 Watershed Management
2.7.1 The Necessity of Watershed Management
2.7.2 Goal of Watershed Management
2.7.3 Watershed Inventory
2.7.4 Partnership Building
2.7.5 Watershed Management Practices

2.1 Introduction

A watershed is the geographical area that drains into a reservoir, and thus a natural geographical unit for the management of water resources (Figure 2.1). Water- shed land cover and land use is a major determinant of water quality, hydrology, and, thereby, fish community composition. A watershed contributes nutrients to a reservoir and subsequently influences primary production. Nutrients, especially phosphorus and nitrogen, flow to the reservoir from all parts of the watershed by way of streams, surface runoff, and groundwater. Typically, watersheds experience various levels of deforestation, agricultural development, industrial growth, urban expansion, surface and subsurface mining activities, water diversion, and road construction. These changes destabilize runoff, change annual amplitudes and distributions of flow, and increase  downstream movement of nutrients, sediment, and detritus, which ultimately are trapped by reservoirs. Depending on their extent, inputs can regulate primary productivity, species assemblages, and food web interactions and control most all biogeochemical and ecological processes.

Figure 2.1. Watershed land cover and land use are major determinants of water quality, hydrology, and the fish community in the reservoir. Photo credit: Monroe County Soil Conservation System, Indiana.

Generally, reservoir fish managers lack expertise and jurisdiction to operate outside the reservoir and therefore have to partner with watershed-level organizations. Partnering with these  organizations  can provide the structure needed to plan, fund, and complete restoration work and may give reservoir fish managers the political clout they normally do not have outside the reservoir.

Over the last two decades watershed management organizations have shown unprecedented growth across the USA. Some of these are small and local, whereas others are basinwide or statewide. An example is the Geist–Fall Creek Watershed Alliance in central Indiana, which is focused on the improvement and protection of Geist Reservoir’s water quality to alleviate fish kills (Figure 2.2). Its watershed management plan includes a watershed inventory, critical areas, goals, best management practices (BMPs), and effectiveness tracking (GWA 2011). Another example is the Cedar Creek Reservoir Watershed Partnership in north–central Texas, also formed to protect the reservoir (TWRI 2007). In this partnership reservoir fish managers participate as members of a technical advisory group. Watershed organizations differ geographically given the diversity of landscapes as well as parallel diversity in the cultural, political, and economic scene. Thus, it is unlikely that a standard model for participation by reservoir managers in watershed organizations is workable in all localities.

Figure 2.2. Conceptual model of watershed effects on the water quality of Geist Lake reservoir, Indiana, as developed by the Geist–Fall Creek Watershed Alliance. Image credit: Geist–Fall Creek Watershed Alliance.
Back to top

2.2 Reservoir Managers versus Watershed Management

It is pertinent to ask what strategic role reservoir fish managers might play in landscape partnerships. As partners, managers can be equipped to show the linkages between the reservoir and disturbances in the watershed and to be activists for change in the watershed that benefits fish in the reservoir. Managers may be prepared to contribute information suitable for developing restoration and protection plans, particularly relevant to how specific actions may affect sediment and nutrient inputs into the reservoir and subsequently fish communities.

As partners, reservoir management agencies contribute human resources with varied skills, abilities, experience, and technical expertise about reservoir management to the collaboration. These agency resources can have varying effects on the partnership’s efforts, depending on the particular circumstances that brought the partners to the table. Sometimes agency technical expertise can help the group understand ecological processes and develop innovative plans for management. At other times, technical expertise could get in the way, such as when it is backed with an attitude that experts know best and others have little to contribute.

Back to top

2.3 Common Watershed Problems

Sediment is a major watershed export into reservoirs that affects the water column through turbidity and, after settling to the bottom, through sedimentation (sections 3 and 5). Mean total suspended solids in 135 Missouri reservoirs ranged from 1 to 47 ppm and were related positively with the proportion of cropland in their watershed, negatively to forest cover, and weakly to grassland cover (Jones and Knowlton 2005). Sedimentation rates in reservoirs are higher in agricultural watersheds and show major shifts in relation to swings in agricultural land management (e.g., McIntyre and Naney 1990). Sedimentation of littoral areas in reservoirs (section 3) often results in loss of depth and associated water-quality problems (sections 5 and 6) and replacement of diverse substrates with fine, uniform particles that blanket existing habitats, fill interstitial spaces, and bury structure. Sedimentation not only affects the backwaters of the reservoir, but, as the backwaters fill, sedimentation extends upward beyond the reservoir into tributaries (section 9), disrupting the reservoir–river interface that supports the diversity of fish assemblages in the reservoir (Buckmeier et al. 2014; Miranda et al. 2014).

Nutrient inputs from the watershed are a leading cause of eutrophication (sec- tion 4). Many studies have quantified the interdependence of land cover and nutrient export from a variety of watersheds modified by human activity (Beaulac and Reck- how 1982). In general, nutrient levels in aquatic systems are related directly to the fraction of cropland and inversely related to the fraction of forest cover in the watershed. Row-crop agriculture with frequent tillage and fertilizer application represents a major disturbance to the watershed (Novotny 2003). Nutrient exports from croplands are several-fold that of grassland and forest (Beaulac and Reckhow 1982). Because phophorus and nitrogen are the principal production-limiting nutrients in freshwater, excessive loading of these nutrients can affect receiving waters adversely. In 135 Missouri reservoirs, phosphorus and nitrogen levels were high in reservoirs surrounded by croplands and lower in those surrounded by forests, resulting in a 7-fold minimum difference in nutrients between a reservoir dominated by forest and one dominated by cropland (Jones et al. 2004). Similar relations were reported in Connecticut (Field et al. 1996), Iowa (Arbuckle and Downing 2001), and Ohio lakes and reservoirs (Knoll et al. 2003). The influences of grassland were less apparent in Missouri reservoirs, with reservoirs dominated by grassland watersheds having about triple the nitrogen and double the phosphorus levels of those dominated by forests. In Iowa, lakes in heavily cropped watersheds had higher nitrogen-to-phosphorus ratios than those found in highly pastured watersheds (Arbuckle and Downing 2001). Nutrient input from urban watersheds often equals or exceeds that from agriculture, as impervious surfaces increase runoff (Beaulac and Reckhow 1982).

Forests affect water quality, discharge, and the quality of reservoir sediment. Likens et al. (1970) showed a large rise in nitrate concentrations and transport following clear-cutting in New Hampshire. In paired watershed studies in northwest Montana, Hauer and Blum (1991) demonstrated increases in nitrogen and phosphorus mobilization and significant increases in algal growth in streams draining watersheds with up to 30% of the total forest area harvested. Vitousek et al. (1982) showed wide variation in nitrification and nitrate mobility in forested watersheds of North America. In shallow natural lakes in Alberta, after timber harvesting, chlorophyll-a and cyanobacteria increased and zooplankton decreased after edible phytoplankton biomass declined (Prepas et al. 2001). Woody debris is an important export from forested watersheds, but it is reduced substantially in managed forests relative to unmanaged ones (Duvall and Grigal 1999).

Livestock overgrazing can impair riparian zones and runoff (Belsky et al. 1999). Excessive consumption of vegetation in riparian zones reduces the vegetation’s effectiveness at filtering nutrients, and excessive trampling by ungulates destroys the banks of reservoirs and their tributary streams, leading to increased sediment inputs and associated turbidity and sedimentation effects (Platts 1979). Compaction of soils in riparian zones decreases infiltration and thereby increases surface runoff and sediment supply. Magilligan and McDowell (1997) documented improved stream conditions in areas where cattle exclosures were installed. Livestock feeding facilities are major sources of nutrients; dissolved nitrogen inputs are sensitive to cattle densities and feeding rates, and nutrient inputs to aquatic ecosystems are related directly to animal stocking densities (Stout et al. 2000). Where livestock stocking rates are high, manure production exceeds agricultural needs for both nitrogen and phosphorus, causing surplus nutrients to accumulate in soils, later to be mobilized by precipitation into aquatic ecosystems (Carpenter et al. 1998). Intensive cattle, dairy, and hog-raising operations produce voluminous waste that rivals that of small cities, but the effect of livestock animals on aquatic systems is likely to differ across climates, geological settings, and hydrologic conditions.

Urban and suburban encroachments into reservoir watersheds and riparian zones contribute to point and nonpoint inputs of nutrients. Point sources can include wastewater effluent and leaching from waste disposal sites of municipal and industrial facilities and storm sewer outfalls. Nonpoint sources also can include runoff and seepage from animal feedlots and septic systems and from industrial, construction, and other sites. Over recent decades, point sources of nutrient inputs have been reduced partly because of the relative ease in their identification and control.
Back to top

2.4 Links between Watersheds and Reservoir Fish

Increased nutrient inputs due to watershed practices stimulate aquatic plant growth and affect fish assemblages (section 4). Filamentous algae are favored under high nutrient and light availability conditions but are not readily incorporated into aquatic food webs by invertebrate consumers (Pusey and Arthington 2003). Consequently, fish may find their food base drastically altered in composition and abundance. Moreover, with increased nourishment, phytoplankton communities can shift from domination by green algae to cyanobacteria. Dominance also may shift seasonally, with cyanobacteria dominating for an increasingly longer portion of the year in highly eutrophic reservoirs (Smith 1998). In turn, zooplankton composition may be affected by phytoplankton availability. Macrofiltrators (usually large-bodied zooplankton) are more abundant in oligotrophic reservoirs but give way to low-efficiency, small-bodied algal and bacterial feeders as nutrients increase (Taylor and Carter 1997). In highly eutrophic reservoirs the food supply of zooplankton actually may decrease because of the dominance by cyanobacteria (Porter and McDonough 1984).

High levels of suspended solids reduce light penetration and photosynthesis (sections 4 and 5), reduce plant biomass, alter zooplankton communities, reduce visibility and possibly reduce fish growth, decrease fish size at first maturity and maximum size, and produce a shift in fish habitat use (Bruton 1985). Increases in turbidity, driven by sediment delivered by agricultural watersheds, tend to interfere with feeding by large zooplankton but not by smaller taxa such as rotifers (Kirk and Gilbert 1990). Thus, changes from vegetated to cultivated watershed might favor dominance by small zooplankton taxa and fish adapted to feed on these.

Subsidies from watersheds can promote selected components of reservoir fish assemblages (Figure 2.3). When nutrient subsidies are large, they stimulate phytoplankton and zooplankton production and, in turn, production of planktivorous fishes (Vanni et al. 2005). Similarly, when detritus subsidies are large, they stimulate production of detritivores (Gonzalez et al. 2010). Fish assemblages in reservoirs of agricultural regions of the eastern USA, where nutrient and detritus subsidies from watersheds are large, are often dominated by gizzard shad (Stein et al. 1995), a clupeid that as larvae rely on small plankton and can consume detritus in later stages (Yako et al. 1996; Miranda and Gu 1998). When at elevated densities, gizzard shad influence many functions of reservoir ecosystems, including nutrient cycling, primary production, and composition and structure of the entire fish assemblage (Power et al. 2004). Conversely, when nutrient and detritus subsidies are small, phytoplankton production is reduced, water clarity increases, and zooplankton production is shifted toward grazing zooplankters such as Daphnia (Kirk and Gilbert 1990; Mazumder 1994). Lacking meaningful levels of detritus and increased water transparency, species composition shifts toward taxa that rely on visual selection of zooplankton prey or other invertebrates through some or all of their life stages (Power et al. 2004). In the eastern USA, those fish assemblages are often dominated by centrarchid species (Near and Koppel- man 2009).

Figure 2.3. Linkages between watersheds and reservoir fish assemblages. The sizes of the arrows indicate the relative difference in a particular flux rate between least disturbed watersheds (left panel) and highly disturbed watersheds. Similarly, font size represents the relative difference in biomass between the watershed types. In less disturbed watersheds, subsidies from the watershed are lower and gizzard shad are scarce. This allows planktivores (e.g., sunfishes) to thrive; piscivores are abundant because they feed on these planktivores. In highly disturbed watersheds, subsidies of dissolved and particulate nutrients from watersheds are more substantial. These inputs stimulate phytoplankton productivity and also provide detrital resources for gizzard shad. Shad biomass therefore increases, leading to increased nutrient transport by shad. This transport leads to further increases in phytoplankton biomass and water-quality complications. Gizzard shad larvae are obligate planktivores and may outcompete other planktivores. Shad also may not be as vulnerable to piscivores as are other planktivores, and hence piscivores are less abundant in highly disturbed watersheds. A multiplicity of other variables can influence the outcome of trophic interactions. Image modified from Power et al. (2004).

An analysis of fish assemblages in reservoirs within wooded and agricultural watersheds of the Tennessee River basin further suggests that entire fish assemblages are influenced by watershed land use (Miranda et al. 2015). In an agricultural basin, fish assemblages included a greater percentage of species that depend on diverse combinations of small zooplankton, benthic invertebrates, benthic algae, and detritus (e.g., threadfin shad, common carp, spotfin shiner, redhorses). In a forested basin, fish assemblages included a greater percentage of species that depend on large zooplankton and macroinvertebrates at some stage throughout their life cycle (e.g., redbreast sunfish, whitetail shiner, warmouth, spotted bass, largemouth bass). Thus, land-use differences in the study basins were associated with detritivore-based and invertivore-based fish assemblages.
Back to top

2.5 Iowa’s Lake and Watershed Management Program

Iowa leads the nation in disturbed land area: 72% of its land area has been converted to cropland, which combined with an additional 10% pastureland and 5% developed land results in 87% of Iowa’s land area being directly disturbed (Heitke et al. 2006). As a result, many natural and constructed lakes in Iowa are impaired, with poor water quality, compromised fisheries, and reduced recreational value relative to their potential (R. Krogman, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, IDNR, personal communication). Over the years many lakes were renovated, some multiple times, resulting in improved fisheries that quickly degraded because underlying problems originating in the watershed (e.g., heavy sedimentation, excessive nutrients, legacy nutrient banks, and ensuing poor water quality) were not fully addressed. A lake scoring system was developed to rate lakes and reservoirs based on water quality, their potential for public benefit, and their feasibility for restoration. This rating, combined with socioeconomic factors, resulted in a priority ranking of lakes and watersheds for restoration. After local commitments are demonstrated and feasibility verified, comprehensive restoration is initiated to address both watershed and in-lake issues. Watershed models are used to simulate hydrologic processes and pinpoint the major sources of sediment and nutrient loading. These loads are reduced to acceptable levels through land-use changes and application of watershed BMPs.

Iowa fisheries managers work within partnerships composed of government agencies, landowners, and nongovernment organizations and invest 20%–30% of their efforts on watershed work associated with lake and stream projects (C. Dolan, IDNR, personal communication). Fisheries managers work in various capacities within partnerships, often as leaders in technical details of specific projects. This approach may be intimidating at first, but it does produce success stories and does garner the public support required to get the funding needed to work at the watershed scale. These restorations can be expensive and require years to complete but are an investment in the local economy, fishing quality, and natural resources as a whole
Back to top

2.6 Tennessee Valley Authority’s Watershed Partnerships

The Tennessee River includes over 30 major reservoirs operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) for navigation, flood control, power production, water quality, and recreation. In 1991, TVA adopted a reservoir-operating plan that increased the emphasis placed on water quality and recreation. This plan modified the drawdown of 10 tributary reservoirs to extend the recreation season and included a US$50 million program to improve conditions for aquatic life in tailwater areas by providing year-round minimum flows and installing aeration equipment at 16 dams to increase oxygen levels. In 1992, to prevent these improvements from being negated by nonpoint pollution, TVA launched an effort to protect watersheds by forging partnerships with governments, businesses, and citizen volunteers. The goal was to ensure that rivers and reservoirs in the basin were ecologically healthy and biologically diverse and sup- ported sustainable uses. To accomplish this goal without regulatory or enforcement authority, TVA built action teams in each of 12 sub-basins within the Tennessee River basin (Pope et al. 1997). These teams were responsible for assessing resource conditions and building partnerships to address protection and improvement needs.

The action teams represented a transformation of TVA’s water management organization from a hierarchy organized around technical disciplines to an organization based upon cross-functional teams. These teams were unique in that they combined the skills of aquatic biologists, environmental engineers, and other water resource professionals with the skills of community specialists and environmental educators. Team members learned to communicate with the public in nontechnical language and to build partnerships with farmers, waterfront property owners, businesses, recreationists, and local and state government officials. Assigning teams to a geographical area for the long term allowed members to gain a better understanding of resource conditions, build community trust, and enhance the development of cooperative relationships with stakeholders. The teams were self-managed and empowered to decide how to focus resources and address protection and improvement needs, allowing a rapid response to evolving or newly discovered problems and opportunities.

The teams conducted watershed inventories so that TVA could rate sub-basins for their degree of degradation and identify areas needing remediation. This information helped focus resources and evaluate improvement activities. Team members shared monitoring information with key stakeholders (e.g., regulatory agencies, state and local governments, businesses and industries, citizen-based action groups, and watershed residents) and sought their support in developing and implementing protection and mitigation plans.

Team efforts to build partnerships paid off. In 1995 volunteers contributed 22,500 hours in monitoring, habitat enhancement, cleanup, and protection activities.  Acting as catalysts for change, action teams helped start or worked in partnership with many local coalitions to solve water-quality problems; conducted over 400 stream and reservoir assessments; established 20 native aquatic plant stands in reservoirs; installed 4,500 habitat structures; stabilized shorelines; and implemented watershed management practices, including construction of wetlands, fencing, and streambank revegetation. Team members also organized a variety of communication activities designed to educate people about water quality and involve them in solving pollution problems. By focusing on partnerships, action teams were able to accomplish what TVA could not have done acting as an independent government agency.
Back to top

2.7 Watershed Management

2.7.1 The Necessity of Watershed Management

A fair question is whether watershed management is always necessary. The importance of watershed management is likely to increase with the level of disturbance experienced by the landscape. Reservoirs in relatively undisturbed landscapes with high-quality tributaries and riparian zones are likely to require mainly watershed protection and traditional in-lake habitat management. In contrast, reservoirs in heavily disturbed landscapes with highly engineered tributaries may require considerable off-lake attention before in-lake habitat management becomes effectual (Figure 2.4). In this latter group, a focus on in-lake habitat management may provide only short-term fixes to complicated watershed issues that are the underlying problems to inadequate fish assemblages.

Figure 2.4. For most of the twentieth century fish managers viewed reservoirs as isolated lakes. With the arrival of easy access to satellite imagery, concepts about reservoirs have expanded to include the potentially large effects of watersheds and tributaries. The image shows Tuttle Creek Lake, Kansas surrounded by a mosaic of agricultural patches and fed by a large tributary with extensive backwaters. The reservoir is listed on the Kansas Section 303(d) as impaired by sedimentation and eutrophication. Extremely high suspended solids and nutrient loads enter the reservoir during storm events reducing its volume by approximately 40% and filling with sediment faster than other reservoirs in the region. Photo credit: Google Earth.
Back to top

2.7.1 Goal of Watershed Management

The goal of watershed management usually is to facilitate self-sustaining natural processes and linkages among the terrestrial, riparian, and reservoir environment. It involves controlling the quantity, makeup, and timing of runoff flowing into the reservoir or tributaries from the surrounding terrain. The first and most critical step is halting, eliminating, or altering those anthropogenic practices causing reservoir degradation. Such approaches can involve a wide range of adjustments to human activities. For example, it may involve increasing widths of buffer strips around fields, altering livestock grazing strategies to minimize adverse effects, moving tillage operations farther away from riparian systems and water, changing tillage methods and timing, and stopping the release of industrial waste that causes water pollution. To this end, various management practices have been developed to target the diversity of potentially troublesome nonpoint sources in the watershed. Watershed management practices usually are applied as systems of practices because one practice rarely solves all problems, and the same practice will not work everywhere. There is a large body of literature about watershed management available to reservoir managers; nevertheless, in most cases, watershed management is not the direct responsibility of the fishery manager.

Since the late 1970s, many federal and state programs have been established in the USA to reduce soil erosion through implementation of BMPs in riparian and upland areas (Table 2.1). Federal agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Farm Services Agency (FSA) are responsible for reducing soil erosion and sedimentation problems. The NRCS provides technical assistance to farmers in the areas of BMP application, compliance with state water-quality standards, and voluntary efforts. Financial assistance is available to farmers from the FSA for efforts to control erosion and sedimentation problems. Technical, educational, and financial assistance is also available to eligible farmers through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. This program addresses soil, water, and related natural resource concerns on farm lands in an environmentally beneficial and cost-effective manner. The purposes of the program are achieved through the implementation of a conservation plan that includes structural, vegetative, and land management practices on eligible land. Cost-share payments may be made to implement one or more eligible structural or vegetative practice, such as terraces, filter strips, tree planting, and permanent wildlife habitat. Incentive payments can be made to implement one or more land management practice. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) is concerned with water-quality degradation caused by turbidity from soil erosion and sediment runoff. The USEPA is authorized under Section 319 of the Clean Water Act to work with states to develop management programs to solve water-quality problems, such as turbidity, and to provide matching grants for the implementation of approved nonpoint source management programs.
Back to top

2.7.3 Watershed Inventory

A watershed inventory documenting features important to reservoir condition is essential. The inventory may focus on critical areas representing major sources of problems likely to have large effects on the reservoir, such as large stretches of channelized tributaries without adequate instream habitat or access to floodplain, agricultural ventures stretching down to the banks, and forest clear-cutting operations (Table 2.2). A focus on critical areas would result in the greatest improvements and save time when gathering available information or conducting on-site surveys. Also, characterization of the watershed generally is limited to a geographic area or scale large enough to ensure that management opportunities will address all the major sources and causes of habitat degradation in the reservoir. Although there is no rigorous definition or delineation of this scale, the goal is to avoid a focus on narrowly defined scales that do not provide an opportunity for addressing watershed stressors in an efficient and economical manner. At the same time, the scale needs not be so large that it precludes successful implementation. A scale that is too broad might allow only cursory assessments and not accurately link effects to sources.

A visual watershed assessment may be one of the least costly assessment methods. By walking, driving, and boating parts of the watershed, one can observe water and land conditions, uses, and changes over time that might otherwise be unidentifiable from aerial surveys. These surveys identify and verify the source of pollutants, such as streambank erosion delivering sediment into the stream and illegal pipe outfalls discharging various pollutants. Visual watershed surveys can provide an accurate picture of what is occurring in the watershed and also can be used to familiarize local stakeholders, decision-makers, citizens, and agency personnel with activities occurring in the watershed. The survey may photograph key characteristics of the critical areas. These surveys may be greatly assisted by Geographic Information Systems (GIS) land-cover layers (Brenden et al. 2006) or simply by visual surveys in Google Earth. The GIS surveys can be used to identify major hazards and large nutrient and sediment sources, as well as help steer an on-the-ground survey.

Table 2.2. Examples of the type of data to include in a watershed inventory and how they might be used. USGS = U.S. Geological Survey; NRCS = Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Data type Data use
Watershed boundaries

·      Provide geographic boundaries for evaluation. Depending on size of the watershed, boundaries might already have been delineated by an agency (e.g., USGS, NRCS).

·      Delineate drainage areas at desired scale.

Climate ·      Organize precipitation data to provide insight into wet and dry seasons, which can help characterize watershed problems and sources.

·      Identify the locations of water bodies.

·      Identify the spatial relationship of water bodies, including what segments are con- nected and how water flows through the watershed.

·      Identify flow gages in the watershed.

·      Gather information about loadings during storm events and high flow.

·      Identify any instream flow alterations or stream fragmentation.

·      Identify water rights (particularly in the West), use, and demand and how they affect the reservoir during drought years, upstream and downstream.


·      Derive slopes of stream segments and watershed areas (e.g., to identify potentially unstable areas). Steep slopes might contribute more sediment than flat landscapes.

·      Evaluate elevation changes.


·      Identify areas with high erosion rates or poor drainage. Soils can be grouped into hydrologic soil groups according to their runoff potential. Information is available from NRCS and local soil and water conservation districts.

·      Delineate subwatersheds based on soils. Soils have inherent characteristics that control how much water they retain, their stability, and water transmission. Understanding the types of soils in the watershed and their characteristics helps to identify areas that are prone to erosion or are more likely to experience runoff.

Land use and land cover

·      Identify potential pollutant sources (e.g., nutrients, sediment). Sources are often specific to land uses, providing a basis for identifying sources. For example, land use for grazing livestock and agriculture potentially contribute mostly nutrients and sediment. Conversely, urban land uses typically have different signature pollutants (e.g., metals, oil, grease, point sources).

·      Identify potential sources of bacteria, such as livestock operations, wildlife populations and their distribution, and septic systems.

·      Identify known pollutant impairments in the watershed. These include wastewater treatment plants, industrial facilities, and concentrated animal-feeding operations. The discharge of pollutants from point sources, such as pipes, outfalls, and conveyance channels, is generally regulated. Point-source discharge information generally is available from state agencies.

·      Identify current control practices and potential targets for management.

Land ownership ·      Identify land ownership. Many watersheds contain land owned by diverse parties, including private citizens and federal and state government agencies. Information on land ownership can provide insight into sources of information for characterizing the watershed or identifying pollutant sources. Ownership information can also be useful in identifying management opportunities.

·      Describe long-term trends in sediment accumulation.

                          ·    Describe seasonal patterns in clay turbidity or sediment intake.                            


Inventorying the watershed and its problems provides the basis for developing management strategies to meet watershed goals. Without an understanding of where pollutants are coming from, it is impossible to target control efforts effectively.  This characterization may already be available, can be developed from existing information, or, rarely, is started from scratch. In the absence of existing data, rapid watershed assessment guidance is available (NRCS 2005; USEPA 2008) to serve as a framework for conducting the necessary surveys. However, research is needed to establish survey protocols specific to reservoir needs, develop and refine quantitative metrics to prioritize and measure progress, and establish how to integrate reservoir needs into landscape planning efficiently.

Some information may be available in 303(d) reports. Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act requires states to develop lists of water bodies that do not meet water-quality standards (impaired) and to update lists every 2 years. The USEPA is required to review impaired water body lists submitted by states and approve or disapprove all or part of the list. For impaired water bodies on the 303(d) list, the Clean Water Act requires that a pollutant load reduction plan be developed to correct each impairment. This plan requires documentation of the nature of the water-quality degradation, determination of the maximum amount of a pollutant that can be discharged and still meet standards, and identification of allowable loads from the contributing sources. The elements of a plan include a problem statement, description of the desired future condition, pollutant source analysis, load allocations, description of how allocations relate to meeting targets, and margin of safety. However, the Clean Water Act is limited to waters with a significant nexus to navigable waters, and agricultural nonpoint discharges are generally exempted from regulatory oversight through the Clean Water Act.

Identifying existing information is critical to supporting the development of a watershed plan that is based on current or future planning efforts (e.g., zoning, development guidelines and restrictions, current and future land-use plans, road plans). This information will support the characterization of the watershed and identify any major changes expected to occur. To know what is available and how to get the information, it is necessary to become familiar with state-, county-, and city-level agencies. One may need to understand the authority and jurisdictions of the agencies in the watershed. For example, it is important that the watershed plan identify management practices that agencies in the watershed have the authority and jurisdiction to implement.
Back to top

2.7.4 Partnership Building

Bringing together people and resources to address reservoir problems through a watershed approach blends science with social and economic considerations. Given reservoir fish managers often have no jurisdiction over the watershed, the very nature of working at a watershed level means managers may need to work with at least one partner. Watershed management is often too complex and too expensive for a fisheries management organization to tackle alone. Weaving partners into the process can strengthen the end result by bringing in new ideas and human resources and by in- creasing public understanding of the problems and commitment to the solutions. Partnerships also help to identify and coordinate existing and planned efforts. For example, a partner might be interested in implementing a volunteer monitoring program but is unaware that the local parks department is working on a similar program. Working with partners can help to avoid “reinventing the wheel” or wasting time and money in duplicated effort. Budgets can be unpredictable, and resources for watershed improvement efforts, such as fencing cows out or building retention ponds, are limited. Working with partners might provide resources not directly available to reservoir managers.

The makeup of partnerships will depend on the size of the watershed (to en- sure adequate geographic representation) as well as the key issues or concerns. In general, there are at least four categories of participants to consider when identifying partners. These categories include (1) those partners responsible for implementing management practices; (2) those affected by the management practices; (3) those who can provide information on the issues and concerns in the watershed; and (4) those partners that can provide technical and financial assistance in developing and implementing practices. To function as a collaborative body effectively, the membership of the partnership might require balance in geographic and topical representation.    Levels of partnering

For simplicity as an example, two contrasting levels of partnering intensity may be identified. Each level represents a degree of involvement and sophistication in collaborative interactions between reservoir managers, other professionals, and the public. The levels refer both to the extent to which collaboration occurs and to the capacity for collaboration in a watershed setting as a whole. The extent of partnering on particular cases will be a function of the nature of the watershed problem and the collaboration capacity of watershed groups or agencies. The hierarchy of the two levels assumes that the greater the level of collaboration, the better the management of difficult watershed problems is likely to be. Conversely, difficult problems will generally challenge less collaborative settings beyond their ability to manage problems adequately. This model does not prescribe an optimal level of collaboration but rather describes the strengths and limitations of a variety of options. Moreover, agencies may use different levels for different problems, depending on the level of collaboration required.

At a basic level of partnering (i.e., project-based partnering), agencies, groups, or both continue working within their normal modes but with commitments to collaborate on one or more projects of mutual interest. Because of this collaboration and coordination, individual planning efforts are better aligned. Agencies and groups may pursue opportunities to co-fund top projects and promote policies to further their plans and implementation. Regular meetings are set between working groups to enhance communication on particular projects.

At a more complex level of partnering (i.e., systemic partnering), agencies, groups, or both establish shared goals, systems, and agreements to increase efficiency through collaboration within existing agency structures. Agencies may engage in a facilitated process to identify a shared vision and systemic way of bringing together their personnel—from the highest level of leadership in the agency to field managers—to evaluate short- and long-term opportunities for watershed management. Joint planning and decision-making may take place before study designs and budgets are locked in to allow for better use of available resources without unnecessary duplication of equipment, personnel, or effort. Agencies and groups may share some costs and pool resources to attract additional funding.    Development of collaborative know-how

Some organizations are accustomed to partnering with other agencies, but others may need to learn how to cooperate and work with organizations, agencies, and public groups that have different values, procedures, and processes. When organizations participate in collaborative processes, they begin a learning process that produces collaborative know-how (Imperial and Kauneckis 2003). Stakeholder collaboration develops as part of a learning process. Once the relationship between stakeholders is established, and collaborative projects are successful, it is much easier to take on additional collaboration. Learning how to partner effectively or, conversely, to identify and avoid ineffective partnerships takes time. However, the pace and scope of collaborative efforts can increase when partners gain experience implementing collaborative projects. Thus, reservoir managers over time gradually could scale up collaborative efforts in the watershed as they build on previous success.    Organizational structure

Partnerships between agencies and groups are likely to be facilitated by an organizational structure and culture that possibly may be different from that of many contemporary fishery management agencies. Depending on built-in flexibilities, agencies currently organized as isolated fish and game departments are likely to find it more difficult to collaborate with watershed agencies than those organized as departments of natural resources. Many agencies might require reorganization to develop the mission, mandate, resource authority, and skills required to manage reservoir habitats effectively at broader scales. In many cases, institutions that have served us well in the past outlive their intended missions and usefulness. Over time, existing agencies are reorganized to create new complexes of organizations to make decisions and meet new needs. This may mean rethinking the role and structures of natural resource management agencies.    Evaluation of partnering efforts

Partnering requires various levels of time and resource commitments. Thus, agencies and individuals may wish to evaluate periodically whether partnering efforts are achieving desired goals. Various aspects of the partnering effort may be considered before entering into a partnership or reconsidered periodically (e.g., annually) when involved in a partnership. An agency may wish to evaluate the effect and outcomes of the partnership, perhaps by asking what tangible outcomes involvement in the partnership had or whether any achievements might have been accomplished outside the partnership anyways. It also may be important to note what, if any, were the benefits for the agency and for its clientele and what changed as a result of participation in the partnership. Although the partnership might have produced important results, was what happened aligned with the goals set? It also would be useful to list any unintended positive or negative effects the partnership might have produced.
Back to top

2.7.5 Watershed Management Practices

There are many types of individual management practices, from agricultural stream buffers, to urban runoff control practices, and to homeowner education programs. This section aims to familiarize the reservoir manager with three general classes of watershed BMPs, without an exhaustive review that is generally in the purview of land-based organizations. Management practices can be grouped into structural practices, nonstructural practices, and regulatory practices (Table 2.3). Structural practices are defined as something that is built or installed in the watershed. Examples may include sediment basins, filter strips, and drainage systems. Nonstructural practices usually involve changes in activities or behavior and focus on controlling pollutants at their source. Examples include developing and implementing erosion and sediment control plans, organizing education campaigns, and practicing good tidiness at industrial complexes. Regulatory practices include ordinances and permits.    Structural practices

Structural practices might involve construction, installation, and maintenance of existing structures. Structural practices can be vegetative, such as soil bioengineering techniques, or nonvegetative, such as riprap. Practices such as bank stabilization and riparian habitat restoration involve ecological restoration and an  understanding of plant communities, individual species, natural history, and the vegetation’s ability to repopulate a site.

Table 2.3. Structural, nonstructural, and regulatory practices applied to watersheds. Structural practices involve something built or installed, nonstructural practices involve changes in activities or behavior, and regulatory practices involve ordinances and permitting.


Structural Nonstructural Regulatory

·      Buffer/filter strips

·      Grassed waterways

·      Wind barriers/brush layer

·      Mulching

·      Live fascines

·      Live staking

·      Livestock exclusion

·      Revetments/riprap

·      Sediment basins

·      Terraces

·      Waste treatment basins

·      Cover crops/seeding

·      Fencing

·      Tree planting

·      Watering facility

·      Brush management

·      Conservation coverage

·      Conservation tillage

·      Educational materials

·      Erosion and sediment control

·      Nutrient management

·      Pesticide management

·      Prescribed grazing

·      Nutrient management train- ing

·      Manure management system

·      Tax incentives

·      Pump logs

·      Water use permits

·      Water management sys- tems (ditches, culverts)

·      Wetlands protection

·      NPDES permits1

·      Required training

·      Pesticides storage/dis- posal

·      Surface water discharge permits

·      Waste disposal permits

·      Conservation easements


·      Broad dips

·      Culverts

·      Riparian buffers

·      Mulching

·      Cover crops/seeding

·      Windrows

·      Road stabilization

·      Grade stabilization

·      Education of landowners and loggers

·      Forest chemical management

·      Fire management

·      Road layout

·      Preharvest planning

·      Harvest/reforestation permits

·      Notification of intended harvest

·      Chemical permits

·      Road construction meth- ods

·      Forest land conversion

·      Management plans


·      Detention basins

·      Green roofs

·      Stormwater ponds

·      Sediment basins

·      Tree revetments

·      Wetland creation/restoration

·      Water-quality swales

·      Riprap

·      Vegetated gabions

·      Silt fence/straw bales

   ·    Erosion control fabric                                                                                                                       

·      Reduction of impervious ar- eas

·      Educational materials

·      Lawn fertilizer management

·      Pet waste programs

·      Shore setbacks

·      Storm drain stenciling

·      Watershed zoning

·      Preservation of open space

·      Development of greenways

·      Land-use zoning

·      Stormwater ordinances

·      Wastewater treat- ment/discharges

·      Material storage/han- dling

·      Lawn care

·      Water setback require- ments

1 National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit program, authorized by section 402 of Clean Water Act.    Nonstructural practices

Nonstructural practices prevent or reduce runoff problems by reducing the generation of pollutants and managing runoff at the source. These practices can be included in a regulation (e.g., an open space, riparian stream buffer requirement, tilling method) or they can involve voluntary pollution prevention practices. They also can include education campaigns and outreach activities. Nonstructural practices can be subdivided further into land-use practices and source-control practices. Land-use practices are directed at reducing effects on receiving waters that result from runoff by controlling or preventing certain land uses in sensitive areas of the watershed. Source- control practices are aimed at preventing or reducing potential pollutants at their source before they come into contact with runoff or groundwater. Some source controls are applicable only to new watershed development, whereas others can be implemented after development occurs. Source controls include pollution prevention activities that attempt to modify aspects of human behavior, such as educating citizens about proper application of lawn fertilizers and pesticides.    Regulatory practices

Management practices required to manage the watershed can be implemented voluntarily or required under a regulatory program. Point sources are most often controlled using regulatory approaches and can work well if adequate mechanisms are in place to provide enforcement. For example, local stormwater ordinances may require development applicants to implement practices such as retention ponds or constructed wetlands to meet performance standards for the development set forth in the ordinance. Local development and subdivision ordinances may require development applicants to meet certain land-use (e.g., commercial versus residential versus undeveloped), development intensity, and site design requirements (e.g., impervious surface limits, open space, riparian buffers, setback requirements). Forestland owners often are required to develop and implement forest management plans. Federal or state lands that are leased to individuals often require permits that specify conditions and management practices adhered to for the term of the permit.

Point sources are regulated under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program, authorized by Section 402 of Clean Water Act. Certain concentrated animal-feeding operations that meet a minimum threshold for number of animals require NPDES permits. Activities that take place at industrial facilities, such as material handling and storage, are often exposed to the weather. Operators of industrial facilities included in 1 of 11 (Jaber 2008) categories of stormwater discharges associated with industrial activity that discharge stormwater into a sewer system or directly to water bodies are regulated under a NPDES industrial stormwater permit.

Become a Contributing Sponsor

Become a part of projects that need your support.