Watershed Management

What is a watershed?

A watershed is simply the geographic area through which water flows across the land and drains into a common body of water, whether a stream, river, lake, or ocean. The watershed boundary will more or less follow the highest ridgeline around the stream channels and meet at the bottom or lowest point of the land where water flows out of the watershed, the mouth of the waterway.

Much of the water comes from rainfall and stormwater runoff. The quality and quantity of stormwater is affected by all the alterations to the land--mining, agriculture, roadways, urban development, and the activities of people within a watershed. Watersheds are usually separated from other watersheds by naturally elevated areas.

Why are watersheds important?

Watersheds are important because the surface water features and stormwater runoff within a watershed ultimately drain to other bodies of water. It is essential to consider these downstream impacts when developing and implementing water quality protection and restoration actions. Everything upstream ends up downstream. We need to remember that we all live downstream and that our everyday activities can affect downstream waters.

Watershed Management

Management of the environment has been primarily focussed on specific issues such as air, land, and water. Most efforts have resulted in decreasing pollutant emissions to air and water, improved landfills, remediation of waste sites and contaminated groundwater, protection of rare and endangered species, design of best management practices to control water and contaminant runoff, and much more.

What is still a continuing problem for our waters are nonpoint source pollution and habitat degradation. These are the problems that are responsible for most of the water quality use impairments throughout. These are typically complex problems that are difficult to manage. Both nonpoint pollution and habitat degradation generally cross program purviews. To establish a method to tackle these remaining problems managements must come together to better understand the interactions between the environmental components and the actions that can be taken by all towards the goal of ecosystem integrity.

small watershed groupings map

West Virginia has over 9,000 streams covering 32,000 stream miles. To better manage the state’s streams, the State is divided into 32 major hydrologic regions, or watersheds.

Additional Links

  • Watershed Monitoring
    • Description: Assessment and reporting of our State's stream water quality is performed by the Watershed Assessment Branch of the DEP. Teams of biologists and environmental specialists measure water quality and habitat information on-site; collect waters samples for laboratory analysis; and collect benthic macroinvertebrate and fish from streams and lakes throughout the state.
  • Impaired Streams
    • Description: The West Virginia Integrated Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment Report (IR) fulfills the reporting requirements under the federal Clean Water Act, Section 303(d) to provide a list of impaired waters and Section 305(b) to provide an overall assessment of West Virginia's waters to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The term "waters" refers to lakes, wetlands, and streams.
  • Total Maximum Daily Loads
    • Description: A Total Maximum Daily Load is a plan of action used to clean up streams that are not meeting water quality standards. The plan includes pollution source identification and strategy development for contaminant source reduction or elimination.
  • Water Quantity/Water Use
    • Description: In 2004, the West Virginia legislature passed the Water Resources Protection Act. The purpose of the act was to gather Water Use Logoinformation on the quantity and use of state surface and groundwater resources.
  • Nonpoint Source Program
    • Description: The NPS Program is part of WVDEP's Watershed Improvement Branch (WIB). WIBs mission is "To inspire and empower people to value and work for clean water."
  • Water Quality Standards
    • Description: Water Quality Standards (Standards) are the foundation of the water quality based control program mandated by the Clean Water Act. The Standards form the legal basis for controls on the amount of pollution entering West Virginia waters from sources such as industrial facilities, wastewater treatment plants and storm sewers.