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A Watershed Integrity Definition and Assessment Approach to Support Strategic Management of Watersheds
Flotemersch, J., S. Leibowitz, R. Hill, J. Stoddard, M. Thoms, AND R. Tharme. A Watershed Integrity Definition and Assessment Approach to Support Strategic Management of Watersheds. River Research and Applications. John Wiley & Sons Incorporated, New York, NY, , online, (2015).
This papaer has three main objectives. First, we provide a definition of watershed integrity. To assist in this definition, we also discuss terms that are closely related to watershed integrity, including biological integrity, ecological integrity, watershed health, healthy watersheds, watershed condition, watershed resiliency, and watershed sustainability. Second, we identify key functions that unimpaired watersheds provide. Third, we operationalize watershed integrity by identifying risk factors (i.e., human-related stressors) that are known to interfere with and degrade the structure, function, and feedbacks of watersheds. These indicators are then used to construct an index to assess watershed integrity. This definition and approach is intended to be used by scientists in the SSWR program that will model and map watershed integrity for the United States by mapping risk factors that have been explicitly shown to interfere with and degrade key functions in watersheds.
Although defined hydrologically as a drainage basin, watersheds are systems that physically link the individual social and ecological attributes that comprise them. Hence the structure, function, and feedback systems of watersheds are dependent on interactions between these social and ecological attributes. Watersheds provide a range of ecosystem goods and services that are valued by society, and their ability to do so depends on their degree of impairment. An array of indicators is used by state and federal agencies to assess watersheds and their individual attributes, and these assessments are often done in comparison to a reference condition. Definitions of ’integrity’ have been developed for river ecosystems at the scale of reaches or sites but are lacking at scales for entire river networks and watersheds. We define ’watershed integrity’ as the capacity of a landscape, contributing surface water to a single location, to support and maintain the full range of ecological processes and functions essential to the long-term sustainability of watershed resources and services provided to society. To operationalize this definition, we identify key functions that unimpaired watersheds provide, as well as risk factors (human-related alterations or “stressors”) that are known to interfere with and degrade watershed structures and functions. These indicators are used to construct an index that can be used to assess watershed integrity.