The Potential Role of Local Governments in Watershed Management
Protecting healthy watersheds and restoring degraded ones is one of this country's major unmet environmental challenges. Because watersheds do not respect political boundaries, effective watershed conservation will require cooperation and coordination among all levels of government, including local units. Watershed conservation is one of the increasingly significant environmental protection roles local governments are playing for a variety of reasons, ranging from choice to coercion. Since the 1970s, many local governments have expanded their traditional land use regulatory programs to include environmental objectives such as impact assessment and the protection of sensitive lands including floodplains, wetlands, and steep slopes. Watershed protection is also a logical extension of the increasing use of habitat conservation plans (HCPs) to comply with Endangered Species Act (ESA) mandates. HCPs have created partnerships among federal and state environmental agencies and local governments to create multi-species habitat reserves to address environmental issues on a larger geographic scale. However, the environmental role of local governments is underdeveloped, compared to their federal and state counterparts, because these units have not been assigned a formal role in the implementation of the two major environmental policies followed in this country, the reduction of exposure to harmful pollutants and the conservation of biodiversity.