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Developing a Watershed Sustainability Index and Incentives for Integrated Water and Resource Management

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On-site integrated water management has become one of the critical elements for protecting our water and treating it as a useful resource. Water conservation, capture, and reuse can help maintain a supply of water for current and future water needs. Preventing excessive quantities of runoff while maintaining the quality of surface waters can reduce or, in some cases, eliminate pollution from entering our natural drainage areas and limit hydromodification thereby protecting the ecological functioning of our natural receiving waters (rivers, streams, lakes, and wetlands). Despite the current regulatory environment, there are inconsistencies in the ability to successfully implement on-site integrated water management. Reasons for this include the necessity for regulators to approve new approaches (e.g., new road standards, site clustering), a change in designs standards, consideration of whole-life cycle cost, permit reviewers must have proper training and approved procedures, and the public must become more educated in stormwater management. While it is hoped that developers will recognize the validity and marketability of integrated water management, one of the largest impediments to implementation is the lack of incentives to encourage developers and builders to use integrated water management techniques.

Because of this, it is necessary to focus efforts that lead to the successful adoption of on-site integrated water management, in particular methods that may condition and encourage public, developer, and builder acceptances of this approach. A watershed sustainability index based on holistic water management strategies that provide a framework for evaluation and a transparent rating system for new and redevelopment projects is a consideration of this research effort. The watershed index, created through an expert panel, would define a set of standards and apply a numerical “credit” method measuring the degree to which the standards are met. The standards would be based on low impact development techniques (LID) such as integrated site design and decentralized stormwater controls that value greater flow attenuation, larger runoff volume reductions, and extended runoff duration while also minimizing the generation and transport of stormwater pollutants. The index would use an independent, third-party verification process to “score” a development's design and build based on on-site integrated water management and incorporation of multiple benefit techniques. Watershed managers, regulators, and developers would be able to estimate the number of credits earned as a measure of effort to minimize land development impacts on hydrology and water quality.

The goal of this project is to create a watershed sustainability index, scoring matrix, and associated guidance that encourages on-site integrated water management. The index intends to include the integration of state and federal water quality improvement efforts (e.g., TMDLs), where appropriate, to maintain or enhance environmental quality and protection of ecologically sensitive areas through a technology based means. Thus, this research is expected to be particularly valuable in advancing the state of our knowledge, as well as potentially removing barriers and providing incentives for adoption of this rating system in many communities. It is anticipated that the watershed sustainability index would increase the knowledge and use of integrated management technologies and activities that go beyond the requirements and regulatory compliance to improve the environment, encourage long-term water sustainability, and to enhance quality of life.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2008-01-01

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