Clean Water Action Plan: Restoring and Protecting America’s Waters

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PROPOSED UNIFIED FEDERAL POLICY FOR ENSURING A WATERSHED APPROACH TO FEDERAL LAND AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT


INTRODUCTION:
The goal of the Clean Water Action Plan is to accelerate the progress this Nation has made in improving the quality of its waters since the passage of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1972, as amended (commonly referred to as the Clean Water Act). Federal agencies manage large amounts of public lands throughout the country. In the interest of protecting water quality, the Clean Water Action Plan announced the intention of Federal agencies to adopt a policy that will reduce water pollution from Federal activities and foster a unified, watershed-based approach to land and resource management. Implementation of the following proposed policy will improve water quality and aquatic ecosystems on Federal lands and will further the use of a watershed approach to Federal land and resource management activities. The Federal agencies that have committed to the Clean Water Action Plan are:

  • Department of Agriculture
  • Department of Defense
  • Department of the Interior
  • Tennessee Valley Authority
  • Department of Commerce
  • Department of Energy
  • Environmental Protection Agency
  • Army Corps of Engineers

  1. POLICY GOALS
    These agencies are committed to managing the Federal lands, resources, and facilities in our care as models of good stewardship and effective watershed management. This.policy is to enhance the existing programs by improving consistency among Federal agency programs.The following policy has two goals: use a watershed approach to prevent and reduce water pollution resulting from Federal land and resource management activities; and accomplish this in a unified and cost-effective manner. The following guiding principles have been incorporated:

    1. Use a consistent and scientific approach to managing Federal lands and resources and to assess, protect, and restore watersheds.
    2. Identify specific watersheds in which to focus our budgetary and other resources and accelerate improvements in water quality and watershed condition.
    3. Use the results of watershed assessments to guide planning and management activities in accordance with applicable authorities and procedures.
    4. Work closely with States, Tribes, local governments, and stakeholders to implement this policy.
    5. Meet our Clean Water Act responsibility to adhere to Federal, State, Tribal, interstate, and local water quality requirements to the same extent as non-governmental entities.
    6. Take steps to ensure that Federal land and resource management actions are consistent with Federal, State, Tribal, and, where appropriate, local government water quality management programs.
  2. AGENCY OBJECTIVES
    To accomplish these policy goals, available resources and authorities will pursue the following objectives. All agencies will implement this policy as individual agency laws, missions, and fiscal and budgetary authorities and resources permit.

    1. We will develop a common science-based approach to watershed assessment for Federal lands.
      1. We will develop consistent procedures for delineating, assessing, and classifying watersheds.
        1. We will work together to define and implement interagency guidelines for the delineation of watershed and sub-watershed hydrologic unit boundaries.
        2. Building on current efforts, we will develop and test watershed assessment procedures in watersheds that have been delineated using the interagency guidelines.
        3. Watershed assessments will determine existing and potential conditions of watersheds that involve Federal lands and resources. We will provide the results of these assessments to States and Tribes for their use in refining their Unified Watershed Assessments.
        4. We will develop a framework for classifying the condition of watersheds with significant Federal lands and resources.
      2. We will conduct watershed assessments for watersheds that have significant Federal lands and resources.
        1. Using cooperatively developed procedures and recognizing current agreements, we will assess the effect of our current and past actions on the condition of watersheds with significant Federal lands and resources in cooperation with States, Tribes, local governments, and interested stakeholders.
        2. Before conducting assessments, we will develop schedules for assessments in priority watersheds and identify needed resources to assess all identified watersheds.
        3. We will conduct assessments in priority watersheds on a 10-year cycle, unless a different cycle better demonstrates changes in a particular watershed’s condition over time. We will conduct assessments in other watersheds on a planned, periodic cycle.
        4. We will use watershed assessments, where available, to protect Federal lands and resources, to improve management, and to assist State, Tribal, and local government protection and restoration efforts in watersheds designated as priorities by State and Tribal Unified Watershed Assessments.
    2. We will use a watershed management approach when protecting and restoring watersheds.
      1. We will work collaboratively to identify priority watersheds.
        1. We will work with States, Tribes, local governments, and interested stakeholders to identify specific watersheds with significant Federal lands and resources as priorities for protection, management, and improvement.
        2. We will identify priority watersheds based on factors that include:
          1. The percentage of the watershed under Federal management;
          2. Issues the Federal agencies identify, including possible adverse effects on water quality;
          3. Magnitude of water quality impairment, impacts to aquatic resources, and/or changes to flow regime;
          4. State and Tribal Unified Watershed Assessments;
          5. Vulnerability of the watershed to degradation; and
          6. The extent of public interest.
      2. We will develop a process and guidelines for identifying and designating waters or watersheds on Federal lands that may have significant human health, public use, or aquatic ecosystem values and a need for special protection.
      3. We will implement pollution prevention and controls, consistent with applicable legal authorities.
        1. We will address nonpoint and point source pollution from Federal land management activities, protect or improve water quality, and meet applicable State and Tribal water quality requirements under the Clean Water Act.
        2. We will work with States, Tribes, and, as appropriate, local governments to address nonpoint sources of pollution by:
          1. Identifying best management practices (BMPs) and management strategies that meet Federal, State, and Tribal water quality requirements;
          2. Adjusting BMPs when monitoring reveals that they do not adequately protect water quality; and
          3. Mitigating impacts when implementation of BMPs results in unexpected adverse water quality impacts.
      4. We will improve watershed conditions through restoration and adaptive management. We will work with States, Tribes, local governments, and interested stakeholders to improve the condition of priority watersheds. Changes in management strategies and restoration efforts will focus on watersheds where Federal land and resource management activities can meaningfully influence water quality and aquatic resources.
      5. We will base watershed management on good science. We will use good scientific information from research and management experience in designing and implementing watershed planning and management programs, and setting management goals (e.g., desired conditions). To expand current knowledge, we will collaborate to identify research needs and contribute to or sponsor research, as appropriate.
      6. We will identify and incorporate watershed management goals into our planning, programs, and actions. We will periodically review and amend, as appropriate, policies and management plans for Federal lands and resources to meet goals for watershed protection and improvement. We will incorporate adaptive management principles into our programs. Our watershed goals will seek to minimize adverse water quality impacts due to ongoing and future management programs, minimize impairment of current or future uses, and restore watersheds where State and Tribal water quality requirements under the Clean Water Act are not achieved.
      7. We will help States and Tribes develop science-based total maximum daily loads (TMDLs). We will develop a coordinated approach for assisting and supporting State and Tribal efforts to develop and implement TMDLs in watersheds with significant Federal land and resource management activities. We will provide technical assistance, tools, and expertise. We will use TMDL results in watershed planning and subsequent resource management activities to meet applicable State and Tribal water quality requirements under the Clean Water Act.
    3. We will improve our compliance with water quality requirements under the Clean Water Act.
      1. We will review agency policies to improve compliance with water quality requirements. We will identify and review our rules, policies, and procedures that affect water quality or watershed condition for compliance under the Clean Water Act with applicable Federal, State, Tribal, interstate, and local requirements for preventing and controlling water pollution.
      2. We will integrate water quality standards and watershed management goals. We will work collaboratively to clarify relationships under the Clean Water Act among BMPs, TMDLs, and State and Tribal water quality standards to achieve the following goals:
        1. Better coordination of watershed goals and objectives;
        2. Better sharing of scientific and technical resources;
        3. Water quality standards that better account for nonpoint source pollution;
        4. Better implementation mechanisms for meeting standards under the Clean Water Act, including practical interim measures where standards are not immediately achievable; and
        5. Consistent treatment of Federal and non-Federal entities as required by the Clean Water Act.
      3. We will review our policies and processes that may affect land and water uses and water quality. In cooperation with States and Tribes, we will review our policies and processes for land and water uses that may affect water quality and watershed condition. We will consider revising these policies or processes, as appropriate, to ensure that they address watershed protection, improvement, monitoring, and water quality compliance.
    4. We will enhance collaboration.
      1. We will improve cooperation among Federal agencies. We will develop a common framework for addressing water quality and aquatic ecosystem issues for watersheds at the national, regional, State, and Tribal levels.
      2. We will improve cooperation with States, Tribes, and local governments. We will develop formal agreements as appropriate with States, Tribes, and local governments to clarify responsibilities for watershed management. These agreements will seek a watershed-based approach for preventing or reducing pollution from point and nonpoint sources.
      3. We will expand opportunities for participation by interested stakeholders. We will seek participation by interested stakeholders in watershed planing and management decisions using available mechanisms in existing planning processes. We will:
        1. Identify specific opportunities for review and comment by interested stakeholders during Federal land and watershed planning efforts;
        2. Provide opportunities for interested stakeholders to participate in monitoring and assessing watershed conditions and in implementing watershed restoration projects; and
        3. Seek early feedback on key decisions affecting watershed management through the Watershed Forum process called for in the Clean Water Action Plan and carefully consider this feedback in agency decision making.
      4. We will expand opportunities for dialogue with private landholders. In priority watersheds with a mix of Federal and private lands, we will work with private sector landholders to involve them in the watershed management process. We will work closely to ensure that Federally funded projects involving private cost-share partners fully consider watershed management objectives for both public and private lands.
      5. We will coordinate monitoring. We will develop and implement a coordinated monitoring and evaluation approach and will monitor water quality trends and our management activities to determine whether progress is being made in protecting and improving water quality.
      6. We will share training, information, and resources. To promote collaboration and consistency in watershed management practices, Federal agencies will continue, expand, develop, implement, and make available joint training programs; share information and resources; transfer technologies for watershed management; and develop a common way to organize and present information and make it more accessible.

This policy does not create any right or benefit, or trust responsibility, substantive or procedural, enforceable by a party against the United States, its agencies or instrumentalities, its officers or employees, or any other person. This policy does not alter or amend any requirement under statute, regulation, Executive Order, or OMB or EPA guidance.