Crossing Jurisdictional Boundaries with a Watershed Approach

Posted on Wednesday, October 25th, 2017 by
In Stormwater, tagged in Tags: ,
watershed map

Although it’s been popular in other parts of the country for decades, using a watershed approach to stormwater management is a relatively new method in the Midwest. A watershed is simply an area bounded by an elevation divide that drains to a particular waterbody. Because watershed boundaries rarely follow jurisdictional lines, a watershed approach to managing stormwater often requires collaboration and partnerships between multiple government entities.

As an alternative to a jurisdictional approach to managing stormwater, a watershed approach more holistically encompasses the land that drains to a water resource, such as a lake, stream, or river. Watersheds can be defined to any size and focus on any single or group of water resources. This flexibility lets watershed management to adapt to the needs of the area. It can also help bring the management of water resources in line with the preference of the federal government, who is actively promoting this approach. This can allow a watershed organization to access funding that would not be available to a single municipality.

A watershed approach can often make public engagement easier and more effective, because improvements within the watershed directly benefit downstream waterbodies. This makes working with local environmental organizations easier because of the more direct link to protecting or enhancing water resources.

While public engagement is simpler, navigating jurisdictional boundaries can be more challenging. As watersheds generally run outside the bounds of individual cities, this approach requires collaboration in managing a shared resource. With multiple municipalities engaged, there will more than likely be differing opinions about the best way to manage a resource. However, cooperation between municipalities/jurisdictions can result in larger projects with more diverse funding sources.

While a jurisdictional approach to project implementation is generally cleaner from a funding perspective, working collaboratively with other municipalities in a watershed approach to stormwater management typically results in solutions that are more effective and economical. This method also provides opportunities to consider a wider range of solutions that can be compared and prioritized within a watershed. This helps avoid band-aid solutions in less than ideal locations that often require more dollars down the road to continue to address the root issue.

While it requires greater collaboration and a willingness to work with other jurisdictions, a watershed approach to managing stormwater provides a more holistic means to identifying and prioritizing improvements within a watershed to maximize the benefit to downstream water resources.

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