EPA Releases its Healthy Watersheds Framework and Action Plan

On September 26, EPA released its Healthy Watersheds Initiative National Framework and Action Plan 2011.  This is a collaborative product of EPA Headquarters and Regions, plus other state, Federal, and non-governmental organization (NGO) partners including the Association of Clean Water Administrators (formerly known as ASIWPCA) and the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.  The Action Plan is a living document that will guide EPA and state partner efforts to meet EPA’s Strategic Plan Goal 2 Objective to protect the nation‘s high quality watersheds, prevent impairments, and accelerate the restoration of watersheds and aquatic ecosystems.  The Agency hopes to advance this non-regulatory initiative by integrating this goal into existing EPA and state water programs.

This Framework and Action Plan identifies the separate actions of EPA Headquarters, Regions, and states according to the goals and concepts of the Healthy Watersheds Initiative (HWI).  When reviewing the document you should note that while reduced treatment costs for drinking water utilities are mentioned as a benefit of the HWI, and that source water protection is mentioned in the EPA Headquarters goals and actions, source water protection is not mentioned in the state actions, and state drinking water programs are not specifically listed as partners.  However, following are the state clean water program actions outlined in this national plan, all of which will include opportunities (even though they are not specifically stated) for state drinking water program engagement:

  • Inventory healthy watersheds using integrated assessments developed through collaboration across state agencies and with other partners.
  • Develop and implement coordinated healthy watershed protection programs both at the state level and collaboratively at the local level.
  • Develop partnerships with other states, Federal agencies, NGOs, and other stakeholders to inventory and protect healthy watersheds.

Relevant to these actions, ASDWA’s Source Water Committee and Nutrients Workgroup members provided comments to EPA on the draft guidance document for implementing the HWI entitled, “Identifying and Prioritizing Healthy Watersheds: Concepts, Assessments, and Management Approaches” in June of this year.  The recommendations in ASDWA’s comments that are applicable to the actions outlined here for states are as follows:

  • Include drinking water as a designated beneficial use when conducting the watershed assessments, which can also help drive an increased selection of water quality monitoring parameters. The locations of public drinking water intakes and wells also provide a good screening tool for identifying an important beneficial use that may not be otherwise designated in state rules or policies.
  • Use the source water assessment data and maps to ensure that water supply intake areas and wellhead protection areas (where interacting with surface waters) are considered in each state’s healthy watershed assessment, planning, and implementation process.  This can ultimately help protect drinking water supplies from contamination and possibly prevent the need for increased treatment costs in the future.
  • Ensure that drinking water utilities are included as partners where applicable, particularly for implementing protection programs at the local level.

In addition to finalizing the draft implementation guidance that ASDWA commented on, this Action Plan indicates that EPA Headquarters also plans to begin:  identifying funding resources; formally signing MOUs with its Federal partners; and developing Strategic Plan reporting measures as well as a research action plan.  The Agency also expects to conduct outreach efforts that increase awareness and understanding about the importance of the HWI.

ASDWA will continue to provide updates to states on the Healthy Watersheds Initiative as any new information becomes available.  For more information and to view the Framework and Action Plan, visit EPA’s web site at:  http://water.epa.gov/polwaste/nps/watershed/hwi_action.cfm.

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