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Setting Goals for Stream “Health:” The Next Generation of Watershed Plans?. The Waterlands Group San Francisco Estuary Institute Aquatic Science Center. Historical Ecology, Watershed Science, Wetland Science, Information Technology. Why Stream Goals?.

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setting goals for stream health the next generation of watershed plans
Setting Goals for Stream “Health:”The Next Generation of Watershed Plans?

The Waterlands Group

San Francisco Estuary Institute

Aquatic Science Center

Historical Ecology, Watershed Science, Wetland Science, Information Technology


Why Stream Goals?

As physical systems, streams adjust themselves to efficiently covey water and sediment.

Stream conditions reflect the combined effects of nature and people on water and sediment regimes.

Goals could guide management of water and sediment regimes to optimize watershed performance across objectives through stable streams.


Each of the four major land use drivers can take streams and watersheds in very different directions

Wildlife Support

habitat protection

water and sediment filtering

Water Quality

drainage efficiency

Flood Control

water storage capacity

Consumptive use


For any watershed, consider all the policies, programs, and projects for wildlife, clean water, flood control, and secure water supplies …

What do they add up to?


Despite good engineering …

… project-by-project planning within the confines of this or that objective has not prevented over-allocation of water, chronic upstream degradation, chronic downstream aggradation, and ongoing declines in wildlife support.


A “Goals Project” could develop answers to basic questions:

  • What are the right management objectives?
  • How much water and sediment is needed?
  • What practices will sustain the needed water
  • and sediment regimes ?
  • What is the associated stable stream condition?
an underlying principle
An Underlying Principle

A stream and its watershed are healthy when:

  • Risks to life and property are reduced to acceptable levels;
  • Economic and community activities are supported and can be sustained by mostly natural processes;
  • The stream is stable within expected range of natural variability.
Stream goals represent success

against which we can measure progress

basic goals project process
Basic Goals Project Process
  • Understand the Past
  • Understand the present
  • Understand change
  • Model the future under alternative management and climate scenarios
  • Choose the optimal future
  • Turn policies, programs and projects into ways to achieve the goals
  • Monitor progress toward the goals
  • Adjust the goals for new understanding
what we need to start
What We Need to Start
  • What was the landscape like prior to major alterations (what forms and functions does it tend to achieve)
    • Drainage Density
    • Sediment and Water Storage
    • Stream Condition
    • Characteristic Hydrographs
  • What is the landscape like now (all the above plus)
    • What are the regulatory and management objectives?
    • What are the basic water and sediment budgets?
    • How much water is allocated and to what?
    • Where are the natural and recreational resources?

Outcomes Distinguish Stream Goals from Other Watershed Approaches

Rather than planning to accommodate future water and sediment regimes by assuming that past trends in land use will continue …

or targeting historical regimes by assuming the past is better than the present …

allocate objectives within and among watersheds, decide what regimes are optimal for the objectives, and identify compatible land use practices.


The Goals Project concept turns watershed plans into watershed designs

For stream reaches, tributaries, and the watershed as a whole, the hydrograph and sediment regime become design specifications that can be monitored to assess design performance.

who has a stake
Who Has a Stake?
  • Watershed Residents
  • Department of Public Works
  • Planning Departments
  • Boards of Supervisors, City Councils
  • Clean Water Programs
  • Water Recyclers
  • Water Districts
  • Fire Departments
  • Vector Abatement Districts
  • Recreation and Parks Departments
  • etc.
are there regulatory drivers
Are There Regulatory Drivers?
  • Water Boards - Clean Water Act, Sections 401, 402, 303(d) etc. – Porter Cologne, WDR
  • Department of Fish and Game - Fish and Game Code 1600 Series, 2500 Series
  • USEPA, COE – Clean Water Act, Section 404
are there regulatory incentives
Are There Regulatory Incentives?
  • Proposed State Stream and Wetland System Protection Policy
  • Revised Federal Rule governing mitigation
  • Renewed interest in cumulative impact assessment at watershed scale (MAP)
  • Coordination of ESA and CWA with flood control and water supply plans to address climate change.
next steps
Next Steps

USEPA ORD and OWOW looking for Demonstration Watershed

Need consortium of local interests to win funding for “dry run” based on real conditions past and present .

Dry Run in demonstration watershed needed to identify needed participants, data, modeling, relation to existing policy, public outreach.