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Watershed Assessment & Restoration

Investigating the Watershed

The Field Crew

Conducting the Assessment

Restoration Planning


Overview of Restoration Planning


After your group has completed an assessment of the water­shed, identified potential AMD discharge sites, and reviewed the basic treatment methodologies, a plan should be developed to address the biggest priority problems. During this phase of your project, it will be most important to involve the technical profession­als, agency personnel, and volunteer monitors who will be dealing with the prioritization, design, funding, installation, maintenance, and monitoring of the treatment method selected.

Form a Committee

The work undertaken during this phase is usually managed by a special committee, with regular reporting to watershed partnership members on progress.

This technical committee will ideally involve representatives from mining and water quality agencies, soil and water conservation programs, university research institutions, environmental protection agencies, private engineering firms, landowners, public officials, and citizens. In deciding how to proceed, the committee will review results of the monitoring program, the nature and amount of available funds and other resources, space requirements for selected site treatment systems, and landowners' willingness to participate.

Define Clean-Up Parameters

The process of identifying where and what type of treatment approaches to use is highly subjective. Water chemistry, flow, available space, and financial resources will determine the nature of the remediation projects approved for construction. Since water quality and flow are two primary considerations in the deliberations, the importance of a well-designed, well-executed monitoring and assessment program (see Step 3) cannot be overstated. Monitoring groups will provide the data to professional staff and agency representatives involved in the remediation design that will dictate the path of much of the clean-up program.

The following section describes the process for determining the desired outcomes for each watershed and subwatershed, and how these activities affect the goals that have been established.

Set Priorities

Regional watersheds contain multiple subwatersheds, which have unique attributes, problems, and uses. Federal and state agencies define surface waters as high quality outstanding resource waters (such as Wild and Scenic Rivers); primary contact recre­ational waters (swimmable), secondary contact waters (fishable); domestic water supply sources (drinking water sources), cold water aquatic habitat (trout-quality streams), and warm water aquatic

habitat (a catch-all category for nondesignated waters). States usually designate their waterways as serving one or more of these uses. If a water body does not support its designated use, it is said to be use-impaired and is often targeted for remediation.


After investigating the uses, quality, characteristics, and relation­ships that each water resource has within the watershed, individual goals for subwatersheds can be established. These goals usually depend on existing and future desired uses, so consideration should be given to public health concerns, drinking water quality, recre­ational uses, and aesthetic quality, among other criteria. In selecting a watershed for a clean-up project, pick a site that is doable. Tackling an extremely polluted site that is beyond the capabilities of the partnership and the resources available might lead to failure and frustration. Clean up smaller areas first, then move on to bigger ones; it will give your partnership valuable experience and the motivation that comes from executing successful project.


In setting goals for your watershed and subwatersheds, it is vital to work with the state water quality personnel within your partner­ship. These agencies collect and maintain records on most water bodies within the state, which are forwarded to Congress every two years as part of the state's requirements under the Clean Water Act A close alliance with public agencies during all phases of your project will pay dividends by having the project at least considered in the agency's official documentation and goal-setting processes.

Determining the goals and desired condition of water resources, however, is increasingly left to the discretion of citizens and other stakeholders in the watershed. Under the watershed protection approach being implemented by state and federal agencies, regional watershed partnerships are charged with the authority and responsi­bility for developing criteria for the desired quality of water re­sources in their regions. Through this process, partnership members set goals for the watershed (fishery support, recreational use, aesthetic beauty, etc.) and then identify factors that prevent attain­ment of the goals. Problem factors are then assessed, and plans are developed to address them.

A goal for your AMD impacted waterway might be to lower the levels of acidity and metals to the standards required for designation of your stream as cold water aquatic habitat. When considering long-term goals for the watershed, partnership members should widen the scope of their assessment to include problems stemming from non-mining sources.

Use your goals and objectives as guidance for the project, but do not become so obsessed with them that you become inflexible.  Unforeseen circumstances abound in any project.  Maintain a clear sense of ultimate purpose (cleaning up the watershed) and perception to help your group recognize future challenges and opportunities when they emerge and make it easier to deal with them. Establish a process for revising components of the objectives as necessary to make the work proceed with minimal disruption.

Start with a "Vision"

A "visioning" process is often employed to establish goals for the watershed. Partnership members bring unique perspectives and desires to the partnership, and the melding of these diverse outlooks and aspirations into an achievable plan provides the sense of owner­ship stakeholders need to stay involved over the long term. From the vision synthesized by the partnership, long- and short-tern goals can be established and plans to reach those goals can be developed. When considering long-term goals for the watershed, partnership members should widen the scope of their assessment to include problems stemming from non-mining sources. Erosion, failed or nonexistent onsite sewage treatment systems, nutrient runoff, and other nonpoint and point sources of pollution often contribute signifi­cantly to water quality problems in Appalachian watersheds. Devel­oping a comprehensive watershed plan involves identifying all contaminants and developing strategies to deal with them.


By addressing your prioritized AMD problems through a step-by-step approach, you can create a sense of steady progress toward achieving the goals of your partnership. Start by assigning each task group or committee a section of the work plan and ask them to determine the following:

It is important to keep the public informed on your progress through regular news releases, media tours, brochures, public meet­ings, and other outreach methods. 

Develop a Schedule

Although there is no simple solution for turning your plans into action, having a master schedule will help organize your tasks. The comprehensive schedule should include budgeting information, funding and technical assistance sources and mechanisms, individual and task group assignments, and critical deadlines for negotiations and actions.

Partnership members need to understand their roles in the partnership work plan, be willing to give their time and effort, be honest and open-minded, and accept the various setbacks, pressures, and frustrations that will arise. Patience and persistence will be required from those involved, especially the leaders of the group. It is important for your partnership members to recognize that the task they are undertaking represents a significant challenge. The prob­lems of AMD were not created in a year or two, and it is unlikely that the watershed will be cleaned up in that period of time.

Choosing Group Leaders

When choosing group leaders, consider each member's deter­mination, dedication, reliability, and ability to articulate the goals of your partnership. It is important to have stable leaders who can keep the group focused and assist in solving disagreements. Good "people skills" are important for group leaders because they often have to deal with disagreements on strategy, work assignments or other issues. Technical know-how is helpful, but do not forget the human dimension of your work. Involving the maximum number of water­shed partners will greatly add to the success of your project, so select leaders who act in an inclusive, mutually respectful manner.

Lead the Way...

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection reiterated the importance of watershed partnerships with strong leadership in the state's 1996 Comprehensive Plan for Abandoned Mine Reclamation (August 1996):

Partnerships among public and private institutions are essential to accomplishing the goals of this comprehensive plan. Partnerships can develop at any phase of the planning process. The leadership role among the partners is the most important decision the partners make. The earlier partners establish a leader and define their individual roles, the more effective they will be. For the most part, leadership should lie with a local organization where there is strong, local support and a commitment to long-term solutions.

Organizing Takes Time

The SCRIP partnership in Pennsylvania spent 3 years organizing the watershed assessment, conducting field studies, and analyzing treatment options. Funding for some of their projects has come only recently, after several years of work.

Assign Responsibilities

It is important to assign responsibilities for managing progress toward each objective, and to identify partnership members who will be involved. Watershed groups can proceed more quickly with their projects, as enthusiastic agency personnel, business people, citizens, industrial leaders, and elected officials involve themselves in the effort. This "snowball effect" can create tremendous momentum for your project, though with increasing velocity and mass (more people) come organizational, scheduling, and work assignment challenges.

Diligence, mutual respect, and a strong commitment to participatory partnership decision-making processes will ensure that progress occurs as smoothly as possible and that all participants feel the sense of involvement and momentum that vitalize and enhance AMD clean-up efforts.

Potential Roadblocks

A number of factors can affect the start date of your actions. Lack of funding and technical support, unresolved conflicts within the group, and communication gaps between funding and technical assistance participants and organizations are all examples of problems you might need to resolve before making firm dates to start work. Committee leaders will need to determine the actions required to complete specific sections of the master schedule, solicit volunteers to perform the tasks, and establish a completion date. These decisions should be reported to the partnership periodically to ensure that other possibly conflicting or mutually necessary activities can be coordi­nated. When organizing their work, those responsible for implement­ing objectives in the plan should define the roles of outside organizations and individuals and should devise a way to evaluate progress and ensure that alternative or backup plans exist.


This information was taken from EPA Office of Water publication Protecting and Restoring America's Watersheds, EPA-840-R-00-001.

Clean Water in Your Watershed: A Citizen's Guide to Watershed Protection. Terrene Institute. 1993. Washington, DC. Guide designed to help citizen groups work with local, state, and federal government agencies to design and complete a successful watershed protection or restoration project.

Cleaning Up Contaminated Sediment: A Citizen's Guide. US. EPA. Jan. 1995. Prepared for the US. EPA/GLNPO by the Lake Michigan Federation. This guide has a section devoted to public involvement in the clean-up of contaminated sediment.

Environmental Partnerships: A Field Guide for Nonprofit Organizations and Community Interests. Management Institute for Environment and Business. 1995. To order, call 800/782-4479.

Environmental Planning for Small Communities: A Guide for Local Decision-Makers. U.S. EPA. 1994. Designed to help leaders of small communities develop a community environmental plan that will save money, make the best use of resources, and meet all environmental regulations. Offers tips on how to build a partner­ship, develop a shared vision, and define community needs.

How to Do an Urban Streambank Cleanup. West Michigan Environmental Action Council. Describes the steps necessary to organize and carry out a stream cleanup.

Introduction to Watershed Planning module on EPA's Watershed Academy website. The goal of this module is to introduce a flexible framework for watershed planning and point out key factors that help make planning successful.

A Model Plan for Watershed Restoration  A collaborative multi-agency model for watershed restoration planning.

The River Corridor and Wetlands Planning page offers a wealth of links to watershed restoration planning.

Stream Corridor Restoration: Principles, Processes, and Practices --a comprehensive manual on restoration