Gather Existing Data and Create a Watershed Inventory

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Watershed Management Process
Build Partnerships
Characterize the Watershed
Set Goals and Identify Solutions
Design an Implementation Program
Implement the Watershed Plan
Measure Progress and Make Adjustments

The variety and quantity of data available vary by watershed, making it difficult to decide which data (and analyses) are necessary. To make these decisions easier, your data-gathering efforts should be guided by your earlier scoping efforts, based on the conceptual model, preliminary watershed goals, and stakeholder concerns.

Data for Watershed Characterization.jpg

To keep your effort focused on essential information, use the conceptual model that was developed while establishing partnerships and tailor your data gathering efforts accordingly. Gathering non-essential data can cost you extra money and distract you from the established scope of the planning effort.

In general, there are five broad categories of data used to characterize watersheds:

  • Physical and natural features - Information on the physical and natural characteristics of your watershed will allow you to define the watershed boundary and can provide you with a basic understanding of the watershed features that can influence watershed sources and pollutant loading. Section 5.4 (PDF, 1.42 Mb, 56 pp.) on page 5-9 of EPA's Watershed Planning Handbook provides complete lists of data sources of physical and natural features.
  • Land use and population characteristics - This information can help you to understand the potential growth of the area and possible changes in land uses and sources, providing a logical basis for identifying or evaluating sources. Evaluating land use distribution and associated sources also facilitates the development of future implementation efforts. Demographic information can be used to help design public outreach strategies, identify specific subpopulations to target during the implementation phase, or help determine future trends and needs of the populations. Section 5.5 (PDF, 1.42 Mb, 56 pp.) on page 5-18 of EPA's Watershed Planning Handbook provides additional information on land use and population characteristics.
  • Waterbody conditions - You will need to obtain the all applicable (and current) water quality standards for your watershed to understand existing and designated uses established for the waterbodies and to compare instream monitoring data with standards to evaluate impairment. You should also document the criteria set for the waterbodies and any relevant criteria for evaluating waterbody conditions. Section 5.6 (PDF, 1.42 Mb, 56 pp.) on page 5-26 of EPA's Watershed Planning Handbook provides additional information on waterbody and watershed conditions.
  • Pollutant sources - Characterizing and quantifying watershed pollutant sources can provide information on the relative magnitude and influence of each source and its impact on instream water quality conditions. Watershed-specific sources will typically be identified and characterized through a combination of generation, collection, and evaluation of GIS data, instream data and local information. Section 5.7 (PDF, 1.42 Mb, 56 pp.) on page 5-30 of EPA's Watershed Planning Handbook provides additional information on identifying and characterizing pollutant sources.
  • Waterbody monitoring data - This information is used to evaluate the condition of the water bodies in your watershed. Section 5.8 (PDF, 1.42 Mb, 56 pp.) on page 5-35 of EPA's Watershed Planning Handbook provides additional information on finding and using waterbody monitoring data.

For more information on types of data typically collected for watershed characterization and the data's potential uses see Table 5-1 (PDF, 1.42 Mb, 56 pp.) on page 5-8 of EPA's Watershed Planning Handbook.

Data sources may come from local, state, tribal, or federal sources:

  • Local sources of information will support the watershed characterization and any major changes expected to occur in the watershed. To know what is available and how to get county-level information, be familiar with state-, county-, and city-level agencies and the authority and jurisdictions of the agencies in the watershed. Other local data sources include universities and environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
  • State sources of information can provide biological, hydrological, and water quality information for the waters in the state. Go to your state's environmental agency's Web site to learn which types of offices work in your state and identify potential sources of relevant information.
  • Tribal sources of information are important in watersheds that include tribal land. First search the Web to see if the specific tribe has a Web site with historical data or background information or reports.
  • Federal sources of information are available from several federal agencies, including EPA, USDA, and USGS. Within the various offices, divisions, and agencies in the federal government, there are likely several federal sources of every type of data used in watershed characterization.

For additional information about local, state, tribal and federal programs and organizations see Section 3.4 (PDF, 622 kb, 24 pp.) on page 3-10 of the EPA Watershed Planning Handbook. This section describes various local, state, tribal, and federal programs that might provide personnel and resources to strengthen your stakeholder group, as well as technical assistance in the development of your watershed plan.

Useful Tools

Below is a list of links which contain tools helpful with this step in the watershed management process. Each tool has a watershed central collaborative content area (where the tools can be discussed and rated) as well as links to the actual tool.