WATERSHED PLAN DEVELOPMENT: LESSONS LEARNED IN BEAVER CREEK
WATERSHED PLAN DEVELOPMENT: LESSONS LEARNED IN BEAVER CREEK “THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY”
Roy A. Arthur * and Ruth Anne Hanahan
In 2006, the Beaver Creek Task Force completed a watershed restoration plan for the Beaver Creek Watershed (HUC TN-06010207-011). The Task Force, formed in 1998, is comprised of 19 agencies, utilities, institutions, and non-profits, its mission to protect and restore the health of Beaver Creek. The development of the plan was unquestionably a tremendous learning experience for Task Force members. The purpose of this paper is to share our lessons learned: “the good, the bad and the ugly.”
The Beaver Creek Watershed is located in the 630-square-mile Lower Clinch River Watershed, covering 86 square miles in the northern portion of Knox County. The main stem of Beaver Creek is 44 miles long and flows through five different communities before emptying into the Clinch River. The watershed is rapidly urbanizing with a current population of approximately 75,000 residents and a projected one of 108,000 by the year 2030, an increase of 45%.
Nearly all of Beaver Creek and its major tributaries are on the State of Tennessee’s 303(d) list of impaired streams. Causes of impairment include phosphorus, nitrates, E. coli, low dissolved oxygen, loss of biological integrity due to siltation, and physical substrate habitat alteration. Pollution sources include major municipal point sources, pasture grazing, and discharges from Knox County’s NPDES-permitted Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4). The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) developed and US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) for siltation and habitat alteration and pathogens for the Lower Clinch River Watershed. The primary impacts addressed by the restoration plan are siltation and habitat alteration.
The Beaver Creek Restoration Plan was developed over an 18 month period, with funds provided by TDEC through a 604(b) grant. The process used to develop the plan followed the steps described in the new US EPA Handbook for Developing Watershed Plans to Restore and Protect our Water (EPA841-B-05-005). Its content encompasses the nine elements required by the US EPA Section 319 Nonpoint Management Program.
The development of the Beaver Creek Restoration Plan offered the Task Force an opportunity to evaluate our strengths and limitations in light of the challenges associated with taking on such a project. We have categorized these experiences (“learning opportunities”) under four primary areas:
- Administrative Considerations
- Public Participation
- Technical Challenges
Under each, we were exposed to the potential “good” and “bad” aspects of developing a watershed restoration plan. The “ugly” we define as that which we simply can not control – those circumstances that at times “just happen.” Following is an overview of each issue and the lessons we took away from each.
An initial step in the development of a watershed restoration plan is determining who will be involved in its development. This involves evaluating community resources including agencies and organizations that may have a stake in developing the plan and that also have the time and skills to do the work. One option, if resources (e.g., research capabilities) are not available within a community to develop a plan, is to contract the work to an outside consulting firm. Another option, if it is felt local resources are available, is to do it in “in-house.” The Task Force opted for the later.
The basis for this decision was three-fold. First, among the agencies, institutions, utilities and nonprofits involved in the Task Force, we have a wide range and breadth of watershed-based project experience. Second, the Task Force includes academic institutions as well as agencies that have and continue to conduct water quality-related research in the Beaver Creek Watershed. We felt our familiarity with the watershed and its communities would give us an advantage in evaluating each of the strategies in terms of its potential for success. Third, we recognized that it will be us -- the Task Force members -- who will ultimately be implementing the restoration strategies set forth in the plan and thus it is well worth our effort to develop the plan ourselves.
That being said, the Beaver Creek Task Force involves numerous agencies and organizations, each with their own mission and goals and professional styles of presenting information and data. In order to provide a more cohesive voice to the plan, we opted to hire a plan writer with the responsibility for compiling data and information provided by our diverse set of partners and synthesizing it into a functional and uniform document.
Lessons learned about partnerships:
- The Good:
- Partners are more willing to make substantive contributions to the watershed restoration plan when responsibilities and costs are spread among multiple parties.
- Diversity of academic and work experiences among partners can lead to innovative ideas and solutions.
- Unforeseen knowledge and skills will surface in partnerships comprised of diverse institutions and individuals.
- Local knowledge of a watershed -- its ecology as well as its communities -- can lead to more pragmatic implementation strategies.
- The Bad:
- Individual partner missions and goals influence the level of priority that is given to the development of the restoration plan.
- The greater the number of partners, the greater the potential for the project to become unwieldy. This may lead to disorganization if not properly managed.
- Additional resources may be needed to reduce the overall work load on already overtaxed partners.
- The Ugly:
- Conflicts related to professional and personal agendas among partners are inevitable in a project involving a diversity of agencies, organizations, and institutions. These conflicts may disrupt the progress of the project, if not managed carefully.
The Task Force’s administrative structure was fully utilized throughout the development of the restoration plan. This included a five-member Executive Committee that oversees its day to day operations and two standing committees, a Technical Committee charged with oversight of the science necessary to develop the plan and an Education/Outreach Committee with the responsibility for developing and executing the programs necessary to promote watershed restoration. Ad hoc committees are formed as needed. In the case of the Beaver Creek restoration plan project, one was formed to oversee the administration of the 604(b) grant being utilized to support the development of the plan. Task Force committees generally meet monthly, with the entire Task Force coming together on a quarterly basis. The quarterly meeting’s agenda includes Committees updating one another on progress being made, with ensuing discussions on how Committee efforts may interface.
Early in the development of the restoration plan, it became apparent that although the Task Force had an administrative structure, the project itself was lacking leadership, creating two notable problems. First, there was a lack of accountability, i.e., “the buck stop here,” within the project. Without one person at the helm, we, as Task Force members, were all being held less accountable for our assignments resulting, in, for example, deadlines not being met. Second, information and data were not always being fed back to the plan writer in a timely fashion or in a useable format. Recognizing this deficiency, the Knox County Watershed Coordinator who also serves on the Task Force Executive Committee took the lead on the project, providing timeline oversight and serving as a conduit for the transfer of information from the partners to the plan writer.
An additional organizational tool that was extremely valuable to the plan development process was the compilation of a detailed annotated plan outline based on US EPA guidance documents. The outline provided a way for the Task Force Committees to more readily identify missing information and data gaps. It also provided a transparent means of making work assignments to partners and tracking the portions of the plan that had been completed.
Lessons learned about administration:
• The Good: o Adding structure to a partnership helps to define roles and responsibilities. o The administrative structure of the Task Force – its Executive Committee and Standing Committees – worked well for the project, with the Executive Committee tracking the “big picture” and the Standing Committees focusing on specific issues. o The Task Force quarterly meetings provided multiple benefits including time for Committees to update one another and identify tasks requiring joint Committee efforts and providing an opportunity for synergistic ideas to emerge. o A detailed outline is a practical way to assign work tasks and monitor their completion.
• The Bad: o Without a project leader, there is less overall partner accountability. o Partner goals and work plans can sometimes conflict with project goals and work plans. o A plan writer can reduce the overall work load of the partners, but information must be fed to that person in a timely manner to stay within the project timeline.
• The Ugly: o Working by committee requires compromise which can lead to interpersonal challenges if not handled with care.
Education and outreach is a critical part of any watershed effort, starting at its outset and continuing throughout the planning and implementation phases. It is particularly important in the development of a watershed restoration plan which will later require not only the public’s buy-in and support, but, in some cases, their participation in its implementation.
The Task Force conducted two primary forms of public outreach related to the plan, one of which we felt was particularly successful and the other less so. The first was the formation of a 19 member Stakeholder Advisory Council that was intentionally selected to provide a broad cross-section of stakeholders. The Council met seven times with Task Force partners over an 18 month period. It was first educated on watershed issues and on the EPA-recommended watershed planning approach. The Council then provided feedback regarding potential general community concerns about plan implementation, ideas to more effectively communicate with the public and their perceptions on community acceptability of proposed restoration strategies. The logistics for these meetings are notable. They were two hours long and held over lunch that was catered by women of the church where we met who provided a truly delicious home-cooked meal.
A series of public meetings were also conducted in each of the primary communities. The meetings were advertised through local papers, schools and other community institutions. They were set up to include Task Force informational booths related to ongoing watershed programs, projects and proposed restoration strategies. A brief presentation of the proposed plan was also provided. Feedback from attendees was positive, as for most it was the first Beaver Creek-related meeting they had attended. However, attendance was extremely low. We attributed this to several possible factors including: 1) competing community events; 2) no one major rallying watershed issue to bring people to the meeting; 3) weather; and 4) over-saturation in the media. A local community paper that is a prime source of information for Beaver Creek communities has over the past two years extensively covered watershed issues which may actually have led to citizens feeling they have heard enough about these issues.
In retrospect of the public meetings, we felt we should have used more innovative means in reaching out to the community in place of employing the conventional public meeting model. With this model, there is often a perception, and rightfully so, that we are asking the public to meet our needs rather than us intentionally working to meet theirs. In more recent watershed outreach efforts we are looking at utilizing a range of social marketing approaches that targets subpopulations and their needs.
Lessons learned about public participation:
• The Good: o The Stakeholder Advisory Council provided valuable input to the process, in part because of its diverse composition. o Home-cooked meals (and the wonderful smell of yeast rolls cooking) created a more positive and relaxed meeting space. It also appeared to be a true draw, helping to consistently keep attendance rates high. o Using non-conventional means of conveying information to and seeking input from the public needs to be considered (i.e., better meeting subpopulation needs). • The Bad: o Participation in the public process is very unpredictable and can be affected by a range of unforeseen variables. o Too much press can sometimes lead to over-saturation. o The conventional public meeting model appears primarily to be effective when there is a “hot” publicly-debated topic to be presented. • The Ugly: o Bad weather happens.
There is a wide range of technical studies that must be completed to develop a watershed restoration plan. These include upland and stream visual assessments, water sampling and analysis, biological assessments, modeling of impacts and the creation of restoration scenarios. With the expertise available in the Task Force, multiple research and collaborative partnerships were formed. In addition Task Force members were able to use data that had been previously collected for other projects.
There was also a challenging research-related situation that proved to be instructive on multiple levels. It involved contradictory results of two separate sediment source models by two different researchers that had differing research project timelines. First, in regards to the conflicting data, several technical meetings were dedicated to determining how the opposing results could be reconciled. In the end, it was deemed that they could not, but that results from both could be field tested partially through additional data collection over the course of the first five years of the implementation of the restoration plan and partially through the evaluation of the effectiveness of the selected restoration strategies. Throughout these discussions, we realized the value of leadership that was adept in the “negotiation process.” Second, this situation underscored the reality of models. In short, models are “black boxes” that must have an adequate amount of data to be field tested. Often watershed plan development timelines do not provide the time to collect the needed data. Third, in utilizing two modeling efforts by two separate researchers (one within a federal agency, another within an academic institution); the reality of differing research time tables was driven home. The predominant use of one model over the other in the plan was influenced by our project time line.
• The Good: o Partnerships can spread the research workload and costs. o A partnership comprised of a diverse set of entities are better able to provide the broad range of data needed for a comprehensive watershed restoration plan. o Unexpected research results can lead to new directions. • The Bad: o There never seems to be enough data to fully understand the nature of stream impacts. o Contradictory research results can lead to a need for adept negotiation skills. o Governmental agencies often have differing research objectives and timelines than academic institutions. Both need to be accounted for in creating a timeline for the development of a watershed restoration plan. • The Ugly: o There never seems to be enough time or money to collect the data needed to fully characterize a watershed.
In summary, we realize that any project utilizing as many partners as we involved in the development of the Beaver Creek Watershed Restoration Plan that the road to completion may not always be smooth. It is a given that each of the partners will have their own individual agendas, missions and timetables. What became clearly evident throughout this project was that it needed strong leadership and a simple but defined structure. With these elements, it then became easier to accommodate individual partner issues, needs and sometimes conflict. In particular, these elements facilitated better communication, clarified roles and responsibilities and kept the planning process moving forward. In the end, we felt the “good” far outweighed the “bad” and “ugly” and that it was well worth “growing the plan” ourselves so that we would then be better prepared for its implementation. Stay tuned for reports on its harvest.