$21 Million Pledged for U.S. Watershed Protection

By Cat Lazaroff

WASHINGTON, DC, January 28, 2002 (ENS) - President George W. Bush plans to include $21 million in his 2003 budget for a new initiative to protect, preserve and restore waterways across the country. The program was announced by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Whitman during a visit to the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

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Aerial view of the Cedar River Watershed in Washington state (Photo courtesy Seattle Public Utilities)
As part of the planned community based initiative, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will target up to 20 of the nation's most highly valued watersheds for grants, Whitman said. The program will also support local communities in their efforts to expand and improve existing protection measures with tools, training and technical assistance.

"As we mark the 30th anniversary of the Clean Water Act this year, we have much to celebrate and many challenges left to face with regard to our nation's water resources," Whitman said. "I have heard a watershed defined as 'communities connected by water,' a good reminder that we all live downstream from someone."

Watersheds include both surface and underground waters, flowing along the natural contours of the landscape. They may include rivers and streams, lakes and ponds, reservoirs and groundwater sources.

Water quality problems, including habitat loss and alteration, nutrient enrichment, pathogens and invasive species, continue to harm watersheds nationwide. These problems prevent the nation's waters from meeting water quality goals, and deprive the public of economic, recreation and drinking water opportunities, Whitman noted.

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Three states and the District of Columbia are collaborating to protect the Chesapeake Bay watershed (Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
Whitman said the program "recognizes the important role that states and local communities have in helping to achieve our common goals, by giving them the power to do what works."

The initiative will support innovative uses of programs like pollutant trading, watershed permits under the Clean Water Act, enforcement, local education and other creative approaches.

The state governors are being invited to help design the details of the program, and the EPA plans for the states to take a leadership role in nominating candidate watersheds. The strongest candidate communities will involve a broad spectrum of affected interests in achieving clean and healthy watersheds.

Watersheds transcend political, social and economic boundaries, Whitman said, adding that it will be important to involve all the affected interests, such as representatives from private landowners, public interest groups, industry, academic institutions, concerned citizens and local government, in planning for watershed protection.

The initiative will focus on watershed resources that provide highly valuable services to support human health, economic stability, ecosystem integrity, recreational opportunity, natural or cultural significance, or other important services.

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The Colorado River watershed includes parts of five U.S. states and Mexico (Photo courtesy Blythe Resort)
"President Bush understands the importance of watershed protection and he is taking action to make America's waterways cleaner and healthier for the families that enjoy them," Whitman added. "With the President's commitment to watershed protection, I am confident that we can preserve and protect our precious waterways for future generations."

More information on the watershed program is available at: http://www.epa.gov/owow/watershed/