Having the support and participation of the local watershed community is the first and most important step in any water quality improvement project.
Community-based planning is a voluntary, locally-led planning process that addresses social, economic and environmental concerns. Involving local stakeholders in the initial stages of developing a watershed plan helps ensure long-term success by getting local feedback on the complex set of economic, social and environmental data collected through the planning process. It also encourages local interest and action by fostering community ownership of the waterbody. Community-based planning helps formulate a group vision of the watershed or waterbody that will inspire citizens to act by prioritizing the identified issues in the watershed.
Successful watershed groups actively recruit members from diverse backgrounds and perspectives to take advantage of their unique skills and ideas. Watershed groups tend to develop smaller subgroups to focus on different aspects of a Watershed Management Plan. They also find ways to actively engage the larger watershed community in the project.
A watershed advisory council is a small group, usually five to 12 members, representing key stakeholder groups that lead the local planning process. The advisory council is usually responsible for drafting the Watershed Management Plan. A technical advisory team is usually comprised of subject matter experts (like fisheries biologists, regional Basin Coordinators, water quality and watershed professionals, NRCS staff, etc.) that may or may not be stakeholders in the watershed. The technical advisory team works closely with the watershed advisory council, providing technical information on the local watershed conditions and the feasibility and effectiveness of potential solutions.
Just as it is important to assess the physical landscape of the watershed at the beginning of a project, a watershed group must also assess the watershed community. Using social scientific research methods, groups should gauge the community’s response to the local waterbody – their knowledge of it and water quality problems, how they value the resource and their support of a project, for example. With findings from the community research, watershed advisory councils and group leadership can strategize ways to address the community’s concerns and to encourage them to actively participate in the effort.
DNR Watershed Improvement Program Grants Coordinator