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National Estuary Program (NEP)

Community-Based Watershed Management Handbook

EPA 842-B-05-003, Feb. 2005

Fact Sheet: Community-Based Watershed Management: Lessons from the National Estuary Program (NEP)

Assistive Technology: For individuals with disabilities, download a copy of the Full Document in PDF Format designed for use with screen reader software applications.

If you would like to order a free copy of this publication, please call the National Service Center for Environmental Publications (NSCEP) at 513-489-8190 or 800-490-9198 or send an email When you request a copy of this publication, please refer to EPA document number: EPA-842-B-05-003.

Successful Approaches to Watershed Management

Environmental protection programs in the United States have significantly improved water quality during the last quarter century. Nonetheless, many challenges remain. Of the waters assessed in the United States, about 40% of streams, 45% of lakes, and 50% of estuaries remain too polluted for fishing, swimming, and other uses. The watershed approach—targeting high priority water quality and habitat problems within hydrologically-defined areas—is essential to address these issues.

Through this handbook, we describe the highly successful approaches to watershed management implemented by the 28 National Estuary Programs (NEPs). The NEPs, unique partnerships of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and numerous federal, state, and local organizations, work together to address coastal watershed management challenges. This document presents new information from nearly 20 years of the NEP experience and describes how the NEPs:

  • protect and restore estuaries by developing and implementing comprehensive management plans;
  • foster consensus on difficult issues by establishing effective governance structures;
  • conduct vigorous education and outreach by involving the public;
  • obtain significant funding by leveraging scarce resources;
  • establish credibility by using science to inform decision making; and
  • sustain their efforts by measuring and communicating results.

The lessons learned contained in this handbook are relevant, not only to the NEPs, but to other watershed organizations including local governments, nonprofits and others who are working to establish, implement and evaluate watershed protection and restoration efforts. While the NEPs are home to certain elements not found in non-coastal areas, such as the presence of salt water ecosystems, and receive funding and organizational support from EPA, this handbook can be successfully applied without the presence of these elements. For example, the checklists and other methods used by NEPs to assess the effectiveness of existing institutions to manage water quality problems can be used by inland watersheds.

This website divides the handbook into eight sections, including an introduction, six chapters, and an appendices section, with downloadable PDF files for each. You may view a brief introduction.

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