How do Stream Management Plans differ from other watershed plans?

Stream Management Plans use assessments to analyze holistic river health (fishery, ability to transport sediment, bank stability, riparian corridors, etc) and recreation goals. They are explained in more detail in this section of the Resource Library.

While this guide is devoted to stream management planning, the same guidance applies to integrated watershed management plans (described below). However, other types of watershed plans, such as nonpoint source plans and source water protection plans, can be complementary to SMPs but are not covered by this guide.

Integrated Water Management Plans are described in the Colorado Basin Roundtable’s Integrated Water Management Plan (IWMP) Framework, which took the SMP concept and widened it to include consumptive uses of water like drinking water, irrigation and energy production. IWMPs still focus on water management practices, streamflow, and the variables affected by it but also account for a wider array of needs, as well as a much larger group of stakeholders including water rights owners and riparian land owners. This collaborative approach allows a regional, comprehensive understanding of needs and gaps for environmental, recreational, and consumptive users, and attempts to fill those needs in a way that is mutually beneficial.

Though similar, there are distinct advantages to both SMPs and IWMPs. Stakeholders primarily interested in stream health and recreational water needs, or those who aim to solve a specific environmental challenge but need data or assessments to inform their next steps, might find a stream management plan the right fit. On the other hand, stakeholder groups that are representative of many interests, or have questions or challenges related to water use and management in addition to environmental and recreational needs, may be more interested in pursuing an IWMP. By putting more of a focus on water users and their values, IWMPs often look at solutions that meet community needs, river needs, and the needs of other interest groups. Deciding which type of plan your community should pursue is an individual decision, and should be based on the motivation for planning and the problems, challenges, and goals identified by stakeholders in the planning process.

Watershed Plans more broadly can focus on watershed health and water quality parameters or mitigating risk to water users from fires or floods. They can be broad in scope, encompassing all of the land in an entire watershed to evaluate how land and water are used in that area and how water quality is affected by those uses.

Many watershed plans to date use the U.S. EPA definition of watershed plans: providing a comprehensive assessment of nonpoint source pollution and a set of management measures to address it. This type of planning is covered in detail on the US EPA website, and so is not covered in this Resource Library. The Natural Resources Conservation Service also has resources related to emergency watershed protection plans and watershed plans meant to protect watersheds from damage caused by erosion, floodwater, sediment and to conserve and develop water and land resources.

Because the water in a stream is dependent on a healthy watershed for its contributions to surface water runoff and groundwater, stream management plans and watershed plans are complementary to each other. A stream management plan can be developed in advance of a watershed plan or vice versa.

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