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Can local governments voluntarily create a regional watershed management plan and work together to implement that plan? Yes!

This paper presents a case study of the Upper Neuse River Basin Association (UNRBA), a voluntary association of 14 local governments in the Piedmont area of North Carolina. The case study demonstrates how the UNRBA has integrated program resources across multiple jurisdictions and organizations to develop and implement a multi-faceted watershed management plan. In late 1999, the UNRBA, in cooperation with several resource agencies and organizations, completed design of the Upper Neuse Watershed Management Approach. The approach provides an organizational framework and process for coordinating management among the six counties and eight municipalities comprising the 770-square mile watershed that lies above the Falls Lake dam. The effort on this scale is exceptional in that there is no regulatory requirement for it. Rather, UNRBA members see benefits of local control and potential cost savings by integrating efforts to avoid more costly restoration individually in the future.

Since the framework was instituted, the UNRBA has set management goals and priorities, conducted detailed assessments of existing and predicted future conditions, identified management gaps, and generated a watershed plan to guide implementation of new management activities. The plan integrates a multitude of management strategies, including nutrient load performance standards for new development site management and enhanced stormwater control requirements for downstream channel protection. The UNRBA Board of Directors has accepted the plan, which is now being reviewed by local officials in each of the 14 jurisdictions for potential adoption and implementation. This process involves numerous challenges, including achieving strong public understanding of the plan through outreach, meeting the often differing objectives of rural and urban communities, and obtaining community support for applying management measures in the upper watershed to protect water supplies in the lower watershed.

This case study examines the methods that were used to achieve consensus among UNRBA members and partner agencies, the experiences and lessons learned in obtaining voluntary endorsement by the local jurisdictions, and the importance of providing flexibility to gain momentum for implementation. In addition, the case study deals specifically with the advantages and difficulties of adopting performance-based approaches for reducing diffuse human impacts in a watershed.

Perhaps just as important, the case study offers some insight into the advantages of local partnerships such as the UNRBA. Local government staff and officials share perspective, expertise, and resources as we address watershed problems. The results include improved analyses, improved local-state coordination, local resource sharing, improved efficiency, and better understanding of the necessity of regional cooperation.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2004

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  • Proceedings of the Water Environment Federation is an archive of papers published in the proceedings of the annual Water Environment Federation® Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC® ) and specialty conferences held since the year 2000. These proceedings are not peer reviewed.

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