The word "watershed" has become popular in the professional and civic lexicon. Depending on its circle of use, this word can relate to the physical boundary of a hydrologic drainage of a particular size, or it infers the complexity and interrelationships that exist in the ecological and social systems within that area, or it is a metaphor in our language for a dramatic moment (Oregon State University Extension Service 2000). The "watershed approach" refers to a systems approach to problem solving and planning, the use of a broad geographic scale (watershed, river basin, coastal zone), collaboration with others to solve problems, and the intention to balance objectives and outcomes for economic, environmental, and social benefits. The term is related to "integrated water resources management" in the literature.
As our perspectives about watersheds continue to emerge and influence public service, and especially to shape natural resources management, all three definitions are pertinent to the Corps' environmental stewardship program.
Public service agencies who are engaged in natural resources management (NRM) are generally oriented today toward the concept of ecosystem management - that is, trying to understand and guide their activities based on the needs of, implications for and effects upon a whole natural system. Attempts to implement this concept are frequently based on watersheds, which are readily discernable physical units that are seen as being somewhat "whole" systems.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has a long history in working in a watershed context - the agency was directly positioned by its authorities to take a holistic perspective to water resources development and management while conducting its waterway surveys and studies. The mid-20th century was an era of large federal water projects that were built to foster economic development on many of the nation's major waterways. The Corps even organized its local and regional office jurisdictions around hydrologic boundaries. As the Corps moved to cost-sharing arrangements in the mid-1980's to include a greater local voice at the direction of Congress, the focus shifted from large-scale projects having broad impacts on water systems and regions toward individual projects having local impacts at particular project sites.
As the Corps and others have evaluated the impact of promoting economic development over environmental considerations, and as environmental values have gained prominence in our Nation's consciousness, the need for a systems approach to water resources has gained favor once again.
Today, along with others who have stewardship responsibility for natural resources, the Corps is gaining new insights and perspectives about watershed systems - and ever advancing its capability to plan, develop, and manage at a watershed scale. Scale is an important dimension to effective watershed management. The scale required for effective management is so grand that no single agency can be, or is, responsible for managing the whole watershed. Rather, all of those who are part of a watershed are part of a watershed team concerned with the overall health and vigor of the entire watershed. This means that we must begin taking responsibility for larger social and economic systems beyond local projects. It becomes our stewardship responsibility to understand and communicate what is required to work toward the health and vigor of the entire watershed.
This Webpage is intended to help the Corps' natural resource management community of practice communicate and enhance our collective wisdom about the utility of a watershed perspective in the operation of our existing projects - particularly in environmental stewardship, but certainly also related to recreation, partnership, interpretive services, planning, activities and all the other aspects of the natural resources program.
Hopefully, this Webpage will become a useful sounding board for what the entire community of practice in watershed management is thinking about watersheds. That means that practitioners and professionals in all corners of the Corps - at our executive level, in our planning arenas, in our regulatory community, and others will become engaged in an active ongoing dialogue about what it means and takes to sustain precious natural resources through Federal programs that share common objectives and that align with programs at other levels inside and outside government. This Webpage will take time to fully develop. At the outset, however, this site is intended to enhance the practical and day-to-day actions that foster a watershed approach for a lake or waterway's stewardship program.
The scope of this Webpage provides basic information about watersheds but nudges the reader toward the huge literature that is currently available about the philosophy, concepts, and technical background involved in watershed management. (At the time of writing this, a Google internet search on the word "watersheds" yielded 739,000 hits in 0.09 second.)
This Webpage affirms the Corps' belief in the watershed direction. For that reason, a significant part of the site is devoted to applicable guidance and policy information, along with the perspectives of the Corps about the importance of the watershed approach. A lot of attention is given to existing resources to promote a watershed approach. Perspectives, professional experience, the testimony of committed partners, shared views and values, and tools in our toolkit are all germane to building commitment to a watershed approach.
In the future, additional information will be added to this Website. The first goal is to enhance understanding about what it takes to adopt a watershed approach in the natural resources management program for lake and waterway management. There has been a renaissance regarding the watershed approach. People are interested and engaged in watershed activities; one 1999 survey counted about 1500 watershed initiatives in play around the country. It is important that the partners relate to each other how they are participating in this movement as a community and clarify what that means for the Natural Resources Management Program, especially in terms of stewardship responsibilities. Hence the reader will find lots of examples that were good enough to share, and examples of lessons learned.
Finally, the page is closely related to the Gateway page, which communicates our NRM work in partnerships. Partnerships are important; watersheds are as much a social system as an ecological system. Via both these pages, the Website offers an opportunity to build a real-time comprehensive catalog of the local watershed-nexus partnerships our Districts and projects are engaged in. There are many of them. These local collaborations complement, and in cases implement -- in a "rubber-hits-road" way-- the numerous national-level partnerships the Corps enjoys.
As all of these facets of the Watershed Gateway Webpage develop, users will recognize quite a lot of what they are already doing. Please contribute success stories and lessons learned so that we can enrich our proud and dedicated community of practice!
Welcome to our Website. Enjoy your exploration.