Resource agencies increasingly involve watershed stakeholders in collaborative watershed planning efforts in an attempt to manage the challenge of reducing non-point source pollution. Broad participation of diverse watershed stakeholders is an essential component to developing a watershed
plan that will be accepted by those who could otherwise prevent a plan's implementation. By laying the groundwork early in the process, agencies can build trust and gain participation from local citizens and leaders in the watershed planning process. This paper outlines one method
for laying this groundwork – conducting a watershed issue assessment. Similar to a conflict assessment, which is often performed by conflict resolution professionals before engaging stakeholders in negotiations, a watershed issue assessment can provide resource agencies
with the information necessary to structure a successful watershed group, and can prepare a community for watershed planning. More specifically, an issue assessment can identify potential stakeholder participants and local partners, provide a reading of the political climate, generate community
interest in a watershed planning process and uncover existing water quality initiatives. The generation of this type of information allows the convenor to anticipate challenges that might arise through a planning effort, allowing them to plan ahead. Watershed Education for Communities and
Local Officials, WECO, is a North Carolina Cooperative Extension Program that facilitates watershed planning efforts throughout North Carolina. WECO recently conducted two watershed issue assessments in preparation for convening two distinct watershed stakeholder groups. One of the assessments
was conducted through a contract with the N.C. Wetlands Restoration Program, a non-regulatory program of the N.C. Division of Water Quality that plans and implements wetlands and streams restoration throughout the state. The NCWRP sought to convene a local watershed group in an urbanizing
coastal watershed to develop a local watershed plan that includes recommendations for siting wetlands and stream restoration sites and for other solutions to address water quality and quantity issues. The second assessment was conducted for the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC). The
NCWRC aimed to convene a watershed group whose goal is protect and improve water quality and wildlife habitat in the Goose Creek watershed, a watershed that is located in the Central piedmont and is home to an endangered species of mussel, the Carolina heelsplitter. Because both of the watershed
stakeholder groups are in the middle of watershed planning processes, the final success of the watershed planning processes cannot yet be gauged. We reflected upon the two planning processes to learn what could from our apparent successes and failures resulting from recommendations made the
watershed issue assessments. We believe that, overall, our recommendations were helpful in structuring the watershed planning processes and was time well spent.
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