Proposal for a Model State Watershed Management Act

By Ruhl, J. B.; Lant, Christopher et al. | Environmental Law, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

Proposal for a Model State Watershed Management Act


Ruhl, J. B., Lant, Christopher, Loftus, Tim, Kraft, Steven, Adams, Jane, Duram, Leslie, Environmental Law


I.   INTRODUCTION
II.  DESIGN PARAMETERS FOR WATERSHED MANAGEMENT LAW
III. THE NEED FOR A STATE-LEVEL WATERSHED MANAGEMENT INITIATIVE
IV.  KEY FEATURES OF THE MODEL STATE WATERSHED MANAGEMENT ACT
V.   THE PROPOSED INSTITUTIONAL FRAMEWORK
     A. State Watershed Management Agency
     B. Regional Watershed Coordination Agencies
     C. Local Watershed Management Councils
VI.  CONCLUSION
VII. APPENDIX I

I. INTRODUCTION

The progress of watershed management stands at a fork in the political road. It is widely agreed that implementing watershed management, to the extent it grows in importance as an organizing policy foundation, is complicated by the mismatch between watershed boundaries and conventional political boundaries. (7) Finding the right "fit" between the two realms presents difficult choices when constructing political institutions. On the one hand, as we increasingly understand that the "problemshed" of most water quality and water quantity issues corresponds more closely to geographically delineated watersheds, (8) proposals for new watershed-based political structures have grown more focused. (9) On the other hand, many local government authorities have extended beyond their traditional role as land-use regulators into environmental protection and resource conservation, giving many watershed management advocates hope that existing local political structures may play a central role in shaping and implementing watershed management policy. (10) Watershed management, it seems, is as much a political science as it is a physical science. (11)

The connection between the physical and political dynamics of watersheds has become increasingly apparent. Decades ago researchers demonstrated that land-use patterns within watersheds have a dominant influence on the hydrologic regime, water quality, and physical habitat of streams and rivers, and on the ecological interactions that take place in the aquatic ecosystem. (12) More recently, researchers have targeted restoration of the physical integrity of rivers while using a watershed framework across a wide range of geographic environments, focusing on facilitating the dynamics of rivers as the key to reversing the rapid decline of aquatic ecosystems in the United States. (13) In short, watershed-based problems--including river fragmentation from the construction of dams, the loss of riverine wetlands, and the separation of river channels from floodplains through levees--demand watershed-based solutions.

Accordingly, the need for watershed-based land-use and resource management has gradually been integrated into concrete policy objectives. The idea itself is not new by any means, (14) and numerous historical antecedents to watershed-based policy frameworks exist, (15) but none are as comprehensive as what we are witnessing today. For example, the most recent Army Corps of Engineers Strategic Plan identifies environmental repair on a watershed basis as one of its primary goals. (16) The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recently taken even broader steps than the Army Corps of Engineers by committing itself to pursuing "multi-stakeholder efforts within hydrologically defined boundaries to protect and restore our aquatic resources and ecosystems." (17) This "watershed or 'place-based' approach" is, according to the initiative, "one of the most important environmental guiding principles" for the current administration. (18) At least twenty states have also adopted some form of statewide watershed management policy for purposes of managing at least some aspects of water quality protection. (19) It is not surprising, therefore, that the National Research Council recently concluded that "[m]any factors are converging to cause citizens, scientists, resource managers, and government decisionmakers to look increasingly to watershed management as an approach for addressing a wide range of water-related problems." (20)

Nevertheless, while the need for a watershed-based approach has become a basic tenet of policy, it is not nearly as clear how to match political structures to the problem so defined. …

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