Applying Ecological Risk Principles to Watershed Assessment and Management
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Considerable progress in addressing point source (end of pipe) pollution problems has been made but it is now recognized that further substantial environmental improvements depend on controlling nonpoint source pollution. A watershed approach is being used more frequently to address these problems because traditional regulatory approaches do not focus on nonpoint sources. The watershed approach is organized around the guiding principles of partnerships, geographic focus, and management based on sound science and data. This helps to focus efforts on the highest priority problems within hydrologically-defined geographic areas. Ecological risk assessment is a process to collect, organize, analyze and present scientific information to improve decision making. EPA sponsored three watershed assessments and found that integrating the watershed approach with ecological risk assessment increases the use of environmental monitoring and assessment data in decision making. This paper describes the basics of the watershed approach, the ecological risk assessment process and how these two frameworks can be integrated. The three major principles of watershed ecological risk assessment found to be most useful for increasing the use of science in decision making are (1) using assessment endpoints and conceptual models; (2) holding regular interactions between scientists and managers; and, (3) developing a focus for multiple stressor analysis. Examples are provided illustrating how these principles were implemented in these assessments.