Watershed Management

What is a Watershed?

In simplest terms, a watershed is an area of land that drains all of its water: rivers and streams, rainfall and snowmelt, and urban runoff, to one specific point. It extends from a point of high elevation, such as a ridgeline, down to a low point where the water flows into a creek, river, bay, ocean, or other waterbody. Watersheds come in all sizes, from large river systems to small creeks, and they cross county, state, and national boundaries. Wherever you are, you live, work, and play in a watershed. Watershed
                    What is a Watershed?
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Bay Area Watersheds

Watersheds in the Bay Area range from large ones like Alameda Creek watershed, that encompasses 700 square miles and includes two counties and seven cities, to small watersheds such as the 1.1 square mile Codornices Creek watershed along the Berkeley/Albany border. All of our Bay Area watersheds ultimately drain to San Francisco Bay, or in coastal areas, to the Pacific Ocean.

The Oakland Museum maintains a map-based, interactive website that includes detailed maps of most Bay Area creeks. Maps are available for downloading and puchase in hard copy. Individual watershed pages link to many useful resources including water agencies and local creek groups.

US EPA also has a map-based watersheds page, "Surf Your Watershed" though some of their information may be out of date.
          Lagunitas Creek, Upper Watershed
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Watershed Management

Many water quality and ecosystem problems are best prioritized, addressed, and solved at the watershed level rather than at the individual city or site level. "Watershed management" integrates and coordinates all the activities that affect a watershed's natural resources and water quality. A watershed management approach includes:
  • Focusing programs and projects geographically
  • Prioritizing and targeting water quality or ecosystem problems
  • Promoting a high level of public involvement in projects and problem-solving
  • Developing science-based, integrated solutions that mobilize the expertise and authority of multiple agencies and organizations
  • Measuring success through monitoring and other data gathering

The Water Board uses a watershed management approach whenever possible. We try to work to improve the health of an ecosystem, watershed-wide, rather than focusing on an isolated stream, species, or pollution problem.

Working with Local Partners

Local people play active roles in protecting many of the Bay Area's watersheds. Water Board staff work with watershed councils and creek groups whenever possible, involving the public and local, state, and federal environmental agencies in creek monitoring projects and in planning and executing creek restoration projects. Local knowledge and expertise is invaluable for development of local goals and performance standards.
  • We work through watershed partnerships to facilitate rapid and coordinated stream assessments, which help us write better permits faster.
  • We review permit applications in collaboration with watershed partnerships whenever possible, to make sure we're addressing overlaps in regulatory authorities, avoiding conflicting requirements, establishing common objectives, broadening the expertise behind permit conditions, and better identifying management options through a group effort.

There are many active watershed coordinating groups in the Bay Area. Here are just a few examples:

The Watershed Project
A non-profit organization that provides education to teachers and students, sponsors creek groups, provides funds for capacity building, outreach, and restoration projects, and acts as a fiscal sponsor for creek and watershed groups throughout the Bay Area.

Urban Creeks Council
A non-profit that provides organizational and technical support to a variety of creek and watershed groups to do creek enhancement and restoration, provides consultation and training, and works with local counties to provide homeowners with creek-friendly solutions to bank erosion and other problems

San Francisco Bay Joint Venture
One of 14 national Joint Ventures established under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, brings together a variety of public and private partners to restore wetlands and wildlife habitat in the San Francisco Bay and coastal areas.

Contra Costa Watershed Forum
An open committee of local and state agencies, environmental groups, local non-profits, and educational groups, meets to share interests and projects. Supported by Contra Costa County Clean Water Program.

San Francisco Estuary Project
Established by US EPA in 1987, is a federal-state-local partnership dedicated to restoring water quality and managing the natural resources of the Bay-Delta estuary. SFEP staff engage on a broad range of projects related to stream/wetlands preservation, pollution prevention, and land use.

Funding Opportunities

Based on identified watershed priorities in our region, Water Board staff make grants and loans available to local governments, educational institutions, and non-profits working on watershed restoration, nonpoint source pollution prevention, and TMDL implementation. We evaluate and recommend support for grant proposals seeking state or federal funding that advance watershed partnerships, demonstration stream restoration projects, and low-impact, environmentally sustainable stormwater management projects. To learn more about financial assistance programs for water quality projects in California, go to the State Water Resources Control Board's financial assistance page.

We also encourage integration of San Francisco Bay Area water and watershed planning through the Proposition 50 and Proposition 84 Integrated Regional Water Management Program.

Watershed Management Initiative

The statewide Watershed Management Initiative (WMI) promotes a watershed management approach for water resource protection, enhancement, and restoration while balancing economic and environmental impacts. Each of the nine Regional Boards has prepared a chapter of the WMI, which explains organizational goals and how priorities are established in the region, describes strategies for achieving local water quality goals, and catalogs each watershed's water quality issues, priorities, and unique characteristics. The WMI guides both the Water Board and watershed stakeholders as we plan water quality protection projects. Our region's WMI chapter is updated as needed.

Online Watershed References and Resources:

A Primer on Stream and River Protection for the Regulator and Program Manager: Technical Reference Circular WD 02-1 (pdf, 5.7MB)

"Putting a Price on Riparian Corridors As Water Treatment Facilities" This peer reviewed paper provides monetary values for the water quality ecosystem services provided by streams and their floodplains and establishes the values of stream corridors as natural water treatment facilities.

Regional and statewide water quality monitoring programs

U.S. EPA's Watersheds Program page provides a variety of tools and documents related to watershed management around the nation.

U.S. Geological Survey "Science in Your Watershed" website provides a wide variety of tools, resources, and scientific information.

The California Watershed Network, a non-profit organization working to coordinate and enhance community-based watershed programs, provides news of watershed activities throughout the state, and sponsors Watershed Awareness Day and biennial watershed forums. The network also works on statewide policy issues.

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