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Environmental Review Toolkit

Eco-Logical Webinar
Watershed Approaches for Mitigation and Transportation Planning: Innovative Programs from FHWA's Resource Agency Partners

Wednesday, November 30, 2011
2:00 - 3:30 PM Eastern


  • Laura Gabanski, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
  • Nathaniel Gillespie, U.S. Forest Services (USFS)
  • Barbara Walther, U.S. Army Corp of Engineers (USACE) – St. Paul District

Moderated by Michael Lamprecht, Federal Highway Administration – Office of Project Development and Environmental Review

PDF Version [4.69 MB]

Table of Contents

Overview of FHWA Context

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Healthy Watersheds Initiative

U.S. Forest Service (USFS) Watershed Approach

Watershed-Based Approaches for Mitigation and Transportation Planning

Overview of FHWA Context

All the slides in this presentation are branded with the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) logo and the USDOT Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA) logo.

Slide 1: Watershed Approaches for Mitigation and Transportation Planning: Innovative Programs from FHWA's Resource Agency Partners

Wednesday, November 30, 2011
2:00 - 3:30 PM Eastern


  • Laura Gabanski, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
  • Nathaniel Gillespie, U.S. Forest Services (USFS)
  • Barbara Walther, U.S. Army Corp of Engineers (USACE) – St. Paul District

Moderated by Michael Lamprecht, Federal Highway Administration – Office of Project Development and Environmental Review

Image: Photograph of a section of a bridge over a culvert, with lush green trees in the foreground and background
Image: Cover of the Eco-Logical: An Ecosystem Approach to Developing Infrastructure Projects document

Slide 2: FHWA Watershed Context

  • All transportation projects occur in watersheds.
  • Transportation impacts to watersheds include erosion, sedimentation, and stormwater discharge.
  • A watershed approach to infrastructure planning reflects best available science and is best suited to ensuring environmental integrity and health.
Image: Photograph of a calm river with a pine forest along the far bank and snow-capped mountains in the distance

Slide 3: Eco-Logical and Watersheds


  • Encourages ecosystem-based mitigation or avoidance through integrating plans and data sharing
  • Establish a common scale for planning
  • Notes that watersheds are a logical and effective delineation of ecosystems

Eco-Logical products and research:

  • Eco-Logical grant projects
  • Integrated Transportation and Ecological Enhancements for Montana (ITEEM) research
  • Eco-Logical Successes

For more information, see the Eco-Logical website.

Image: Graphic image from the Eco-Logical website of the Eco-Logical infrastructure development process: the words Ecosystem Approach are encircled by the names of the three elements (Performance Measurement, Integrated Planning, and Mitigation Options). Each element has a blue arrow pointing clockwise from it to the next element.

Slide 4: FHWA Watershed Connections

  • Regulatory agency permitting
  • Green Highways Partnership
    • Watershed Resources Registry
  • Stormwater management
  • Aquatic and endangered species
  • Livability
Image: Graphic of the earth's globe, emanating green light. Encircling and facing the globe is a human chain, connected by their raised arms.

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U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Healthy Watersheds Initiative (HWI)

All the slides in this presentation are branded with the Healthy Watersheds logo and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) logo.

Slide 5: EPA's Healthy Watersheds Initiative

Watershed Approaches for Mitigation and Transportation Planning:
Innovative Programs from FHWA's Resource Agency Partners
Eco-Logical Webinar Series
November 30, 2011

Laura Gabanski
Healthy Watersheds Initiative Manager

Slide 6: EPA's Watershed Approaches

  • Watershed Approach and Framework – early 1990's
  • EPA Water Programs adopt a watershed approach as an efficient way to obtain environmental results – 1990's – present
  • Watershed Plans to implement TMDLs – 2003
  • Healthy Watersheds Initiative – 2008

Slide 7: Overarching Goals of the Healthy Watersheds Initiative

  • Maintain existing healthy watersheds and increase their numbers over time
  • Raise the visibility and importance of protecting high quality waters
    • Listing of impaired waters and focus on cleanup important—but so is protection of high quality waters

Slide 8: How Does the Healthy Watersheds Initiative Differ From Other EPA Programs?

  • A systems approach to maintenance of the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the nation's waters (CWA Section 101(a))
    • Protection of aquatic ecosystems within a spatio-temporal context that acknowledges their dynamics and interconnectivity (dependence) in the landscape – hydrologic dynamics, habitat connectivity, natural disturbance regimes, climate change
  • State-scale implementation of strategic watershed protection priorities that leverages programs and resources across state agencies

Slide 9: Key Elements of the HWI

  • Partnerships are established to identify and protect healthy watersheds
  • Healthy watersheds are identified by States with their partners using scientifically-sound, integrated assessments
  • Healthy watersheds are listed, tracked, maintained and increased in number
  • Healthy watersheds are protected and, if applicable, enhanced using the best regulatory and non-regulatory tools
  • Healthy watershed protection is integrated into EPA programs
  • Progress on protecting healthy watersheds is measured and tied to EPA's Strategic Plan

Slide 10: Watershed Assessment Tool

Image: A graphic from the Watershed Health Assessment Report, Draft Results, August 2010

Slide 11: Some Examples of Healthy Watersheds Protection Programs

Habitat Protection

  • Vermont River Corridor Protection Program
  • Washington Growth Management Act Local Critical Areas Protection Program (e.g., codes, conservation easements)
  • Maryland GreenPrint Program

Instream Flow Programs

  • Vermont Hydrology Criteria, Maine Instream Flow & Water Level Stds, Connecticut & Washington Streamflow Regulations Proposed
  • Michigan's Groundwater Withdrawal Stds & Tool, Ohio ELOHA Water Withdrawal Tool

State WQS Antidegradation Programs

  • Tennessee instream flow protection

Tax Credits & Landowner Stewardship

  • North Carolina conservation tax credit and landowner stewardship programs
  • Virginia Land Preservation Tax Credit (Governor McDonnell's 400,000 acre goal by end of his administration), VA Clean Water Revolving Loan Fund Land Conservation Loan Program

Local Watershed Zoning and other protection programs

Slide 12: Watershed Size

  • Generally, smaller is better for on the ground implementation in most EPA Water Programs
  • Strategic Plan reporting scale is HUC 12 subwatershed
  • Size does vary, e.g., Mississippi River Basin, Large Aquatic Ecosystem Programs (Chesapeake Bay Program, Columbia River Program)
  • Healthy Watersheds Initiative – states determine scale (e.g., HUC 8 in MN)

Slide 13: Benefits of a Watershed Approach

  • Protecting dynamic, interconnected aquatic ecosystems requires a watershed approach (and a hydrologic landscape approach for groundwater)
  • From a transportation planning perspective, understanding this larger context helps with avoiding loss of habitat hubs & corridors, hydrologic regimes and connectivity, and related geomorphic processes (sediment transport, natural dynamic shape of streams) all of which are critical to protecting aquatic ecosystems

Slide 14: Healthy Watersheds & Transportation Planning

  • Data and information from state healthy watersheds assessments can help guide avoidance and minimization of impacts
    • green infrastructure, active river area, fluvial geomorphic status, hydrologic regime, high quality waters (chemistry, habitat, biology) – at the state and local planning levels

Slide 15: Partnerships with Transportation Agencies

  • Watershed Resources Registry – EPA Region 3, Corps of Engineers Baltimore District, & Maryland resource and transportation agencies
  • Potential to partner with transportation agencies to help protect healthy watersheds, target mitigation
Image: Screenshot from the Watershed Assessment Tool, which shows a grayscale map of the Maryland Watershed Resources Registry area, with a legend and a caption. The legend associates the shades of gray with Opportunity Values of Best, Good, Acceptable, and Fair. The caption reads “This map shows sample findings for the study area. The best opportunities for achieving a specific ecological goal (for example, wetlands preservation) are shown in the darkest shade. The streams (white lines) are included for information only.“

Slide 16: Challenges with Implementing a Holistic Healthy Watershed Protection Approach

Stovepiping of programs and agencies

  • States are seeing value of a holistic approach to aquatic ecosystem protection – interdependency, efficient, cost effective, quicker environmental results
  • Broader recognition of a systems approach facilitated by assessment method availability

Slide 17: Healthy Watershed Initiative State Partners

New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services
New Hampshire Fish and Game
Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection
Vermont Agency of Natural Resources
Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation
Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game
Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs
Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection
Virginia Department of Environmental Quality
Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation
Maryland Department of Natural Resources
North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality
Kentucky Division of Water
Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency
Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation
Georgia Department of Natural Resources
Michigan Department of Environmental Quality
Michigan Department of Natural Resources
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
Ohio Environmental Protection Agency
Oklahoma Conservation Commission
New Mexico Environment Department
Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality
Texas Commission on Environmental Quality
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
Iowa Department of Natural Resources
Kansas Water Office
Kansas Department of Health and the Environment
Missouri Department of Conservation
Utah Department of Environmental Quality
Arizona Game and Fish Department
California State Water Resources Control Board
Oregon Department of Environmental Quality
Washington Department of Ecology
Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation
Alaska Department of Fish and Game

Slide 18: Thank You

Laura Gabanski
Healthy Watersheds Initiative

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U.S. Forest Service (USFS) Watershed Approach

All the slides in this presentation are branded with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service (USFS) logo.

Slide 19: US Forest Service Watershed Approach

Nat Gillespie, USFS
Assistant National Fisheries Program Leader
Watershed, Fish, Wildlife, Air, and Rare Plants Staff

Image: Photograph of a snow-capped mountain range rising above forested hills
Image: Photograph of a bridge over a culvert and rocky stream
Image: Photograph of a large, yellow-leafed tree overhanging a stream in a rural area
Image: Photograph of three workmen in safety gear maneuvering large logs across a whitewater stream
Image: Photograph of a brook flowing over a moss-covered rock into a calm, clear pool

Slide 20: Background on FS Watershed Approach

Watershed Restoration has always been central to the U.S. Forest Service mission:

  • Organic Act of 1897 – “secure favorable conditions of flow”
  • USFS manages 193 million acres – much of it headwaters
  • A clear link between healthy watersheds and water quality and quantity in the scientific literature

Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack: “Clean, healthy forests are vital to our efforts to protect America's fresh water supply.”

“Our nation's economic health, and the health of our citizens, depends on abundant, clean and reliable sources of freshwater.”

Slide 21: Forest Service Approach to Watershed Management

  • Develop a comprehensive approach to strategically implement integrated restoration on watersheds on National Forests and Grasslands
  • Strengthen the effectiveness of Forest Service watershed restoration by focusing efforts on priority subwatersheds (HUC6)
  • Enable a priority-based approach for the allocation of resources for restoration that integrates USFS various expertise
  • Enhance coordination with external agencies and partners
  • Develop an outcome-based performance measure for documenting improvement to watershed condition at Forest, Regional, and National scales

Slide 22: Watershed Condition Framework

Image: Graphic of the Watershed Condition Framework, which shows six rectangular boxes in a circle, connected by clockwise arrows. Starting at the top, the boxes are labeled: STEP A: CLASSIFY, Watershed Condition; STEP B: PRIORITIZE, Watersheds for Restoration; STEP C: DEVELOP, Watershed Restoration Action Plans; STEP D: IMPLEMENT, Integrated Projects; STEP E: TRACK, Restoration Accomplishments; and STEP F: VERIFY & MONITOR, Watershed Condition.

Slide 23: Watershed Condition Indicators

  1. Water Quality
  2. Water Quantity
  3. Aquatic Habitat
  4. Aquatic Biota
  5. Riparian/Wetland Vegetation
  6. Roads and Trails
  7. Soils
  8. Fire Regime or Wildfire
  9. Forest Cover
  10. Rangeland Vegetation
  11. Terrestrial Invasive Species
  12. Forest Health

Watershed Condition:
The state of the physical and biological characteristics and processes within a watershed that affect the hydrologic and soil functions supporting aquatic ecosystems.

Image: Watershed Condition Indicators Chart that list the 12 indicators under four classifications: Aquatic Physical (30% - Water Quality, Water Quantity, and Aquatic Habitat), Aquatic Biological (30% - Aquatic Biota and Riparian/Wetland Vegetation), Terrestrial Physical (30% - Roads & Trails and Soils), and Terrestrial Biological (10% - Fire Regime or Wildfire, Forest Cover, Rangeland Vegetation, Terrestrial Invasive Species, and Forest Health).

Slide 24: National Watershed Condition Class (WCC) Results – 15,064 USFS Watersheds

Class 1 – Functioning Properly 7,882 52%
Class 2 – Functioning at Risk 6,751 45%
Class 3 – Impaired Function 431 3%
Total watersheds 15,064  

Watershed Condition Class: The process of describing watershed condition in terms of discrete categories (or classes) that reflect the level of watershed health or integrity.

Slide 25: Interactive Map of Condition Class

Image: Screenshot of the Watershed Condition Framework page of the USFS website

Slide 26: USDA Forest Service Watershed Condition Classification

Image: Map of the contiguous 48 States, with inserts of Alaska and Puerto Rico, color-coded by watershed condition classification as of May 12, 2011: green for Functioning Properly, yellow for Functioning at Risk, and red for Impaired Function. The ratings are based on assessments on National Forest Service land in sixth-level watersheds.

Slide 27: USDA Forest Service Watershed Condition Classification

Image: Screenshot from the Watershed Condition Classification of a topographical map of the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests. An information box is attached to a circle on the map and contains data specific to that area.

Slide 28: Step B: Prioritize Watersheds for Restoration

Identify priority watersheds for restoration

  • A small number equivalent to a 5-year program of work (2-5 per Forest)
  • Initial designation of priority watersheds completed September 30, 2011
  • Address partnership opportunities and considerations
  • Areas with special designation:
    • Designated municipal watershed (source-water protection areas)
    • Outstanding Resource Waters
    • Ecological, social, economic considerations
    • Alignment with national/regional strategies and Forest Plan direction

Slide 29: Step C: Develop Watershed Action Plans

Develop action plans for priority watershed

  • Field assessment to document specific problems
  • Identify essential projects that address the problems
  • Implementation schedule
  • Involve potential partners
  • Initial watershed restoration action plans being completed

Essential projects are a discrete group of conservation actions and treatments that are implemented as an integrated suite of activities, focused primarily on restoring or protecting watershed health and therefore improving watershed condition class.

Slide 30: USFS and Transportation Infrastructure

  • Travel Management Subpart A: The Forest Service is continuing to implement the 2005 Travel Management Rule. Subpart A will identify a properly sized road system for each NFS unit, based on environmental, social and economic considerations.

    The ultimate goal is to develop a road system with fewer resource impacts by assuring roads are in locations only where they are necessary to meet management access needs.

  • Aquatic Organism Passage and Stream Simulation Design
    • Training and Implementation throughout agency
    • Technical transfer to federal, state, local and NGO partners

Slide 31: Road and Culvert Legacy on U.S. Forest System

  • 375,000 miles of road inventoried
  • 25,000 road crossing structures inventoried
  • 20,000 road crossings inventoried with some level of barrier
  • Over 470 fish species, over 346 crayfish species
  • Over 124 Aquatic Threatened and Endangered Aquatic Species on USFS Lands
Image: Photograph of a man measuring the water depth of a pool that is fed by two small parallel culverts in a forest
Image: Photograph of two men in the woods at opposite ends of a culvert. One of the men is holding a large net.

Slide 32: Federal Highways (HTAP) Program for Aquatic Organism Passage

  • Dedicated $10 million/year program for USFS from Federal Highways Trust Fund
  • In 2010, HTAP funded 62 projects that opened 270 miles of stream for fish
  • Funding is leveraged with other, often private, funding
  • Projects can occur outside of National Forest System Lands
  • HTAP likely to be funded in 2012
  • HTAP work may not be reauthorized in the 2013 Federal Highway Bill.
Image: Photograph of a concrete bridge in the woods. A mound of gravel is in the foreground.
Image: Photograph of a bridge across a whitewater stream in the woods

Slide 33: Questions & Discussion

Image: The Watershed Condition Framework graphic from Slide 22.

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Watershed-Based Approaches for Mitigation and Transportation Planning

All the slides in this presentation are branded with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers logo.

Slide 34: Watershed-Based Approaches for Mitigation and Transportation Planning

Barbara Walther
Senior Ecologist
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Paul District
November 30, 2011

Image: Photograph of a calm stream in the woods. The sun's rays are shining through the treetops in the background.
Image: Aerial photograph of a river winding through a city with greenspace along its banks and numerous bridges crossing over it.

Slide 35: Watershed Planning in the Section 404 Program

Regulation of Aquatic Resources
SAMPs down arrow SAMPs with Mitigation Component down arrow Mitigation Plans
  Impacts   Mitigation  
Image: Photograph of a lilypad-covered pond that also has green reeds growing out of it
Image: Photograph of a lake, as viewed from a grassy hill. Two young trees are silhouetted against the blue lake.
Image: Photograph of a cypress tree swamp with sunlight in the background
Image: Photograph of a wetland on a bright sunny day, with green grass surrounding the water's edge, a row of mountains in the background, and blue sky filled with white puffy clouds

Slide 36: Planning for Impacts and Mitigation

City of Lino Lakes SAMP

  • Wetland-rich City on Developing Edge of Twin Cities
  • Existing Interstate Access Drives Land Use
  • Upstream Drainage Areas Affect Water Quality
Image: Inset map with location of Lino Lakes region marked in red on a map of the State of Minnesota. Map of City of Lino Lakes, Minnesota, just north of Minneapolis/St. Paul, with the Rice Creek Watershed area highlighted.

Slide 37: Planning for Impacts and Mitigation

Need and Justification

  • Comprehensive Plan update
  • Significant development pressure (current)
  • City's desire to maintain and restore City's aquatic resources
  • Active TMDL development
  • Interest from watershed stakeholders
Image: Close-up map of the Lino Lakes watershed area, color-coded to highlight lakes, wetlands, major roads, and hydric soils/non wetland

Slide 38: Planning for Mitigation

Sunrise River Watershed Mitigation Pilot Study

  • Corps Regulatory Branch led effort
  • 383 square mile watershed in the southern part of St. Croix River Basin in Minnesota
  • Includes the I–35 and US Hwy 8 Corridors
  • Extensive aquatic resources and resource management issues
Image: Map of the Sunrise River Watershed area, color-coded to highlight major highways, lakes, and surface water connections

Slide 39: Planning for Mitigation

Need and Justifation

  • An area of projected future growth
  • Key contributor of sediment and nutrients to the St. Croix River
  • Interest from watershed stakeholders
  • Synergy with Corps Feasibility Study and state led TMDL development
Image: Aerial photograph of the St. Croix River winding through a wide, flat, snow patch-covered plain

Slide 40: Planning for Mitigation

Sunrise River Watershed Phase 3 Tasks: Development of a GIS based decision support system

Image: Diagram of the Sunrise River Watershed Phase 3 Tasks: There are four steps: Step 1, Select Criteria, which is represented by a stack of colored maps of the watershed region; Step 2, Rasterize and Derive, represented by another stack of different colored maps of the watershed region; Step 3, Reclassify, represented by a third stack of different colored maps of the watershed region; and Step 4, Weight and Combine, represented by two larger multi-colored maps. There are arrows from each step/stack pair to the next step/stack pair. There are ovals labeled “Average” and “Weighted Average” interconnected between the Step 3 stack and the Step 4 images.

Slide 41: Sunrise River Watershed Mitigation Site Suitability Analysis – Final Results

Image: Color-coded map of the Sunrise River Watershed region, coded by Mitigation Target Suitability levels ranging from low to high, forest exclusions, buffer regions, and wetlands. There are four map inserts: one of the State of Minnesota showing the study area, and three maps blown up, each showing color-coded area detail.

Slide 42: Watershed-based Planning for Mitigation (Duck-Pensaukee Watershed)

Duck-Pensaukee Mitigation Pilot Study
Commenced 2010

A watershed-based plan identifying viable/potential wetland and stream restoration and preservation priorities.

Image: Map of the Duck-Pensaukee Watershed region, showing how the watershed overlaps the four counties of Oconto, Shawano, Outagamie, and Brown. An insert of a map of the State of Wisconsin is included, highlighting the location of the four counties.

Slide 43: St. Paul District Points of Contact

Lino Lakes SAMP
Barbara Walther
Senior Ecologist

Sunrise River Watershed Mitigation Pilot Study
Tim Smith
Enforcement and Compliance Coordinator

Duck-Pensaukee Watershed Mitigation Pilot Study
Rebecca Graser
Wisconsin State Program Manager

Slide 44: Questions?


Eco-Logical Webinar Series:

Image: Photograph of a lake just before dusk, edged by snow-capped mountains in the background and pink, gray, and white clouds in the distance. The mountains and clouds are reflected in the lake.

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For questions or feedback on this subject, please contact Mike Ruth at 202-366-9509.