Much of the focus of EPA’s water quality programs for the past four decades has been on restoring impaired waters and reducing pollutant levels in waterways. While EPA and our state, tribal and other partners have made, and continue to make, considerable progress in this important task, we recognize the need to also protect and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of our Nation’s waters (CWA Section 101(a) objective) as intended by Congress.
The Committee Report written in support of the 1972 Federal Water Pollution Control Act amendments clarified that the term integrity "…refers to a condition in which the natural structure and function of ecosystems is [sic] maintained," rather than simply improving water quality in a narrow sense. Protection of healthy functioning watersheds is essential for not only ensuring that restored water bodies are maintained but also so that we can continue to enjoy the ecological services healthy watersheds provide.
Healthy Watersheds Program Vision
To protect and maintain the aquatic ecological integrity of watersheds and supporting habitat networks to ensure that future generations may enjoy these resources and the social and economic benefits that they provide.
EPA acknowledged the need to increase protection of healthy watersheds in Coming Together for Clean Water: [EPA’s Strategy to Protect America’s Waters (PDF)]. The Strategy identified increased focus on the protection of source waters and healthy watersheds as one of the five areas guiding the implementation efforts and actions to meet the Strategic Plan objectives in the next two years and beyond. [EPA's Strategic Plan (2014-18)] and the [National Water Program Guidance] address this need as a key national strategy (i.e., EPA will work with states and tribes to strengthen capacities to identify and protect high quality waters). EPA created the Healthy Watersheds Program to enhance our ability to protect healthy aquatic ecosystems and their watersheds.
Support states and tribes in their efforts to identify, protect and maintain healthy watersheds across the United States.
Further integrate protection of healthy watersheds into EPA Clean Water Act programs.
Promote the aquatic protection component in partnering with other government, non-government and private entities involved in landscape conservation.
Increase awareness of the value of protecting healthy watersheds and improve understanding of the range of management actions needed to avoid adverse impacts.
Key Program Elements
The Healthy Watersheds Program provides a strategic framework and tools for holistic watershed protection for state, tribal and local programs. The Program both integrates systems-based healthy watersheds protection into EPA CWA programs, and promotes development of state, tribal and large basin healthy watershed protection strategies. These strategies leverage programs and resources of land and aquatic ecosystem protection agencies, and of other partners.