Often the first question asked when discussing local issues and opportunities related to a water body is “What is the current condition of my lake, stream, or watershed?” This inevitably leads to additional questions, such as “How does this compare to conditions in the past? What factors are contributing to the current condition? How does my lake/stream/watershed compare to others in the area and throughout the province?” Together, these questions are essentially asking “What is the state of my watershed?”
To answer this question, one must conduct an overall assessment of the watershed. A watershed assessment is a process that characterizes a watershed’s current condition by evaluating how well a watershed is working. It is a descriptive survey or inventory of the existing natural and cultural resources within a watershed, including an analysis of how landscape and hydrologic systems interact and function within that watershed.
The State of the Watershed assessment process includes examining the history of the watershed, describing its features, identifying issues and concerns, evaluating the condition of the resources within the watershed, and determining the impact of human activity. A State of the Watershed assessment has often been likened to a medical screening for human health; it identifies potential problems and issues that require further investigation.
A State of the Watershed report documents and interprets the findings of the watershed assessment process. But more than an encyclopaedic collection of information about the watershed, a state of the watershed report should also identify or suggest what factors are, or may be, contributing to current conditions. That way, the assessment can serve as a compass to help direct future activities, including the development of integrated watershed management plans. By communicating an evaluation of a watershed’s health (ie: its ability to provide the desired ecosystem goods and services such as safe secure drinking water, reliable quality water supplies for a sustainable economy, and healthy aquatic ecosystems), a State of the Watershed report further serves as an effective tool for increasing social awareness of local conditions and issues, and mobilizing others to action. It is important that everyone involved understand what a watershed report is, and is not.