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The prevalence and effectiveness of using a watershed approach to water resource management has resulted in “watershed planning” requirements or recommendations in a wide range of individual Federal, State, and local programs to restore and protect water resources. Many of these individual programs envision the same basic elements to a watershed plan. However, achieving the particular goals and objectives of each individual program through a watershed plan may not result in a plan that meets requirements of other programs. The Rouge River National Wet Weather Demonstration Project (Rouge Project) has attempted to identify the requirements of a generic comprehensive watershed management plan to meet multiple program objectives. Those program requirements need to be balanced with stakeholder goals, objectives, and available resources.

The Rouge Project in Southeast Michigan is a working example of how a systematic watershed approach to pollution management can result in cost-effective and ultimately greater and faster achievement of designated uses in a waterbody. In addition, multiple program objectives are being achieved through the development of comprehensive watershed management plans. The Rouge Project has expanded from a program to build and evaluate alternative approaches to control combined sewer overflows (CSOs) to a comprehensive watershed-based pollution abatement initiative. The Rouge River Watershed is largely urbanized, spans approximately 438 square miles, and is home to over 1.5 million people in 48 communities and 3 counties.

The Rouge Project has spent considerable effort to build institutional and regulatory frameworks necessary to accommodate a watershed approach to wet weather pollution management. Part of this framework is a watershed-based general permit for municipal storm water discharges issued under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program. This storm water permit program was developed jointly by the Rouge communities and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) and is based on the concept of cooperative, locally-based watershed management. Communities and agencies in over 95 percent of the watershed have applied for coverage under this innovative, watershed-based permit program. The MDEQ permit requires permittees to participate in watershed management planning for a self-determined subwatershed unit. The subwatershed management plans form the basis for implementing watershed goals and objectives that will result in improved water quality and pollution control. The Rouge communities will also use these watershed management plans to achieve other program objectives, such as those under the federal TMDL program and the state Clean Michigan Initiative.

The paper identifies what the Rouge Project has found to be the elements of a “comprehensive watershed management plan” which will achieve multiple program objectives, such as the reissuance of NPDES permits on a watershed basis, implementation of the water quality trading programs that are currently under development, implementation of the Section 319 non-point source program, development and implementation of Watershed Restoration Action Strategies envisioned under the Clean Water Action Plan, implementation of monitoring programs and for addressing the requirements of the TMDL program. The paper presents information on the implementation of the comprehensive watershed management plans to meet the elements of individual water resource management programs. It discusses challenges and successes of the overall effort. Finally, the paper presents information on lessons learned that will be useful to other geographic areas in their development and implementation of comprehensive watershed management plans.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2000-01-01

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