Creating a Watershed Plan for Successful Stories - American Farmland Trust

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Creating a Watershed Plan for Successful Stories
Upper Scioto River Watershed, Summer of 2019

I am sure most of us are familiar with the popular Benjamin Franklin quote, “if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail”. Many of us do some level of planning each and every day. Maybe you make a to-do list for the work day, create a plan for your next vacation, or research investments for a retirement plan. Some of these calculations are successful, but I’m sure we all have a story where a lack of preparation ended in a less than desirable result.

I have been helping farmers identify, plan and implement conservation practices for nearly two decades and engaged in planning in the Upper Scioto River Watershed, or USRW, in Ohio since 2018. This type of watershed strategizing is no vacation planning, but I am always constantly working to discover areas that I can improve upon or find more opportunities for in planning. The USRW has been identified by the Ohio EPA as a priority watershed, as it is one of three watersheds that supplies nearly 85% of drinking water to the city of Columbus. While potential pollutants from various sources such as municipal, industrial, and other point source locations are regulated under the Clean Water Act, there are numerous other sources of potential pollutants that are considered non-point sources that are not regulated.

These non-point sources might include runoff from farms, residential areas, home septic systems, urban runoff, and improperly managed construction sites. To improve water quality in the USRW, and achieve a 30% nitrate-N loading reduction, a lot of constructive planning needs to be created and initiated. Fortunately, there is a watershed planning tool that can be used to address non-point sources of pollutants and guide other watershed-based restoration efforts.

In 2016, the Ohio EPA published a set of guidelines that local partners can use to develop Nine Element Non-Point Source and Implementation Strategic Plans, or NPS-IS. NPS-IS are focused plans in small watersheds that guide improved planning for watershed restoration, help build community consensus, identify critical projects to protect water quality. It also helps support those areas in becoming eligible for and obtaining grant funds to implement identified projects.

In a nut-shell—this type of watershed planning process reduces the risk of having to tell an undesirable story because of poor planning.

NPS-IS plans can be a critical tool for protecting and restoring local waterways. We are working with local partners in the USRW in central Ohio to develop NPS-IS plans in 5 of the 30 sub-watershed areas that make up the whole watershed. The process includes identifying the problem areas that need restoration or additional protection and then determining the appropriate type of practices and projects. Remedies may include anything from farmers planting more cover crops, which reduce runoff from farms, to completing a stream stabilization project, which can help protect stream banks from eroding. We are especially excited that these initial plans will be completed late summer of 2021. As a follow-up to the NPS-IS plans, we also intend to work with those same local partners to implement the various projects and practices that will be identified.

Planning for success today means we can have a robust community, cleaner drinking water, and a story of success far into the future.

About the Author
Brian Brandt

Agriculture Conservation Innovations Initiative Director

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