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The Watershed Prioritization Project – Prioritizing Watersheds, Water Quality Issues and Projects

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The lower Colorado River watershed (in Texas) is more than 20,000 square miles in area that contains a diversity of land and water resources, people, climates and pressing issues. This diversity poses both an opportunity and a challenge to the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA), whose responsibilities include studying, correcting and controlling water pollution. While the lower Colorado River basin is currently blessed with relatively good water quality in most areas, it has a few water bodies on the 303(d) list and some water quality parameters in certain areas exhibiting declining trends. The central part of the basin is also experiencing phenomenal population growth that has increased demands on water resources and threatens water quality, particularly in urban areas.

To restore impaired water quality, reverse negative trends and prevent degradation where water quality is good, a comprehensive but focused approach was needed to provide a scientifically sound framework for making management decisions. The desired outcome included identification of critical water quality monitoring, protection and enhancement initiatives that respond to stakeholder concerns and have a good chance at achieving measurable success. The Watershed Prioritization Project was designed to meet these needs and could provide a model for similar projects.

The project was divided into two phases: prioritization and targeting. The prioritization phase incorporated a decision support model that produced a ranked list of watersheds based on current water quality conditions and factors likely to degrade water quality in the future. The watersheds compared in this part of the project were large in scale to enable consideration of the maximum amount of data possible. The process was methodical and reproducible, and the data was objective and verifiable. The primary products of the prioritization phase were three prioritized watershed lists, one insufficient data list and recommendations on which watersheds to consider in the targeting phase.

During the targeting phase, additional numerical, spatial and empirical information on priority watersheds (selected in the prioritization phase) was examined to identify critical water quality issues. Priority issues were also gathered through an extensive community input process. Initiatives to address high-ranking issues were developed through brainstorming sessions and community input, then prioritized based on factors affecting implementation such as problem resolvability, potential public support and funding possibilities. The primary product from the targeting phase was a prioritized list of water quality issues and initiatives that addressed priority issues. Information on geographic focal area, project time frame and possible funding sources were also included with each initiative. Priority initiatives were included in a departmental five-year strategic plan. Both phases of the project were subjected to extensive peer review.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2002-01-01

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