2 min read

What is Watershed Planning?

Wherever you live, you live within a watershed. A watershed is an area of land through which water drains by flowing across, through, or under the soil surface to a common low point, typically a stream, river, lake, or ocean.

Citizens can become involved with their local watershed through watershed planning. Watershed planning is an integrated approach to responsible resource management by considering the watershed as a whole. Watershed planning and management involves several factors, such as targeting problem areas within a watershed; promoting awareness and involvement of stakeholders; and developing solutions to the identified problems. Through a watershed planning approach, impairments to surface water and groundwater sources can be addressed and remedied through partnerships, data collection, and focused planning efforts.

Why is Watershed Planning Important?

Watershed plans help guide watershed coordinators, policymakers, and community groups to protect water quality by specifically addressing water problems in the community. Clean and abundant water is vital to the well-being of humans, industries, and the environment.

Goals of Watershed Planning

  • Protect and restore natural resources
  • Improve water quality
  • Reduce flood damage
  • Enhance and restore stream health
  • Guide new development to benefit watershed goals
  • Develop and preserve green infrastructure
  • Enhance education and stewardship (Check out Alabama Watershed Stewards)
  • Improve watershed coordination and collaboration


Watershed planning helps protect the physical, chemical, and biological components of a watershed, or restores those that have been impaired. These plans can be used to maintain water quality standards while conserving the natural landscape.


Elements of Watershed Plans

Clean Water Act Section 319(h) Watershed Plans

Watershed Plans developed and implemented with Clean Water Act Section 319(h) funds are required to fulfill nine minimum elements by the Environmental Protection Agency.

  1. Identify causes and sources of pollution
  2. Estimate expected reductions in load
  3. Describe management measures and targeted critical areas
  4. Estimate technical and financial assistance needed
  5. Develop an information and education component
  6. Develop a project schedule
  7. Describe interim, measurable milestones
  8. Identify indicators to measure progress
  9. Develop a monitoring component


Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Program (PL 83-566)

The PL 83-566 program authorizes the Secretary of Agriculture to cooperate with State and local agencies in planning and carrying out works of improvement for soil conservation and other purposes. PL 83-566 requires the development of a physically, environmentally, socially, and economically sound plan of improvement scheduled for implementation over a scheduled period of years. Technical and financial assistance is available from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to local organizations representing people living in small watersheds. In order to be eligible for cost-share, the project must meet a specific purpose of the PL 83-566 program. Eligible purposes are the following:

  • Flood Prevention
  • Watershed Protection
  • Public Recreation
  • Public Fish and Wildlife
  • Agricultural Water Management
  • Municipal and Industrial Water Supply
  • Water Quality Management
  • Watershed Structure Rehabilitation


Watershed Planning Process

In the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service’s planning process for watershed plans developed with PL 83-566 funds, nine steps must be followed.

  1. Identify Problems and Opportunities
  2. Determine Objectives
  3. Inventory Resources
  4. Analyze Resource Data
  5. Formulate Alternatives
  6. Evaluate Alternatives
  7. Make Decisions
  8. Implement the Plan
  9. Evaluate the Plan


Learn about some of the Watershed Plans developed at Auburn University by browsing the Watershed Planning page.


Did you find this helpful?