The goal of a WRAPS Assessment Project is to characterize watershed conditions, identify needs and opportunities, and understand how the watershed responds to various management scenarios.

Objectives of an Assessment Project are to:

  1. Provide information and education
  2. Establish assessment criteria
  3. Inventory:
    • Conditions
    • Resources
    • Culture
    • Customs
    • Institutions
  4. Identify needs and opportunities
  5. Develop appropriate watershed models:
    • Water Quality
    • Hydrologic
    • Economic
    • Ecological
  6. Prepare a Watershed Assessment Project report

Assessment projects may require a substantial amount of technical assistance, depending on the extent of inventories and the development of watershed models.

1) Providing Information & Education

Stakeholder education and involvement are important components of every WRAPS project, especially Assessment Projects which can involve highly technical information. Hosting informational meetings/workshops, tours, demonstration projects and developing printed materials (brochures) are two ways of educating stakeholders about watershed conditions and the use of models. Regardless of the methods, it is important that stakeholders remain engaged in the process of developing the WRAPS.

2) Establishing Assessment Criteria

Assessment criteria identify “ideal” watershed conditions and serve as an overall benchmark for setting goals and assessing progress.

3) Conducting Inventories

Assessing or inventorying the condition of water resources involves consideration of the designated or beneficial uses of water resources, such as drinking water supplies, recreation, irrigation, aquatic life support, and other critical uses. Water quality standards have been established for all designated uses. These standards identify numerical (quantitative) or narrative (qualitative) limits on pollutant levels in order to maintain the specific uses of water resources. Standards address a variety of pollutants from fecal coliform bacteria to dissolved oxygen levels. Water resources that have consistently experienced poor water quality (i.e. do not meet designated uses) are considered “impaired” and are subject to the establishment of Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) – these identify the maximum of various pollutants that a water body can receive in a period of time and still meet water quality standards. Many TMDLs also establish goals for pollutant load reductions needed to restore a water resource. For the purposes of a WRAPS, water resources with TMDLs are considered to be in need of “restoration”.

The State maintains an extensive water quality monitoring network that provides important water quality data. This data is used in identifying impairments and establishing TMDLs. It can also be used to identify water quality trends and potential threats to water quality. For the purposes of a WRAPS, water resources that do not have TMDLs are considered to be in need of “protection” to ensure that they continue to meet water quality standards to support designated uses.

Information about water resources, including designated uses, water quality standards, impaired waters/TMDLs, and water quality data from the state’s monitoring network are available from KDHE (see resources section of notebook).

Assessing (or inventorying) the condition of other natural resources may include utilizing existing or initiating new biological surveys and inventories by the Kansas Biological Survey, Kansas Department of Wildlife & Parks, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, or other technical assistance providers. (See resources section of notebook.)

4) Identifying Needs & Opportunities

A key aspect of an Assessment Project is identifying needs and opportunities based on assessment information gained through existing data and studies, as well as monitoring and modeling activities. Needs are gaps between “ideal” watershed conditions (as outlined in the assessment criteria) and actual conditions. When “ideal” conditions are not met, this means that restoration activities are needed. Good examples of needs are TMDLs for surface water resources. Opportunities exist when resources meet “ideal” conditions, but are in need of protective actions to prevent future degradation. For example, water resources that do not have TMDLs are often still “threatened” by pollution and may become degraded in the future if no action is taken.

5) Developing Watershed Models

Models are used in watershed assessment, planning and implementation projects to estimate the impacts of watershed management actions. A model as used in the context of watershed management is a description or analogy used to help visualize something that cannot be directly observed. Watershed management models can range from very simple to complex arrays of mathematical formulae manipulated through a computer program. A simple model is – “We know the quality a given watershed produces through years of collecting and analyzing water samples from a single watershed. Therefore we can assume that other watersheds that have land cover, topography, rainfall, soil and development similar to the monitored watershed are likely to have water quality that is similar to the monitored watershed”. SWAT – Soil and Water Assessment Tool is an example of a complex model. SWAT uses mathematical relationships among rainfall, soil cover, soil type and numerous other easily observable items to estimate runoff and concentration of pollutants in the runoff.

Simple models have the advantage of being inexpensive and capable of being used by virtually anyone. Their disadvantage is they have limited utility beyond making an initial determination of likely watershed conditions. Complex models require trained professionals to set up, operate and interpret model results. As a consequence they are much more costly to use and apply. A great deal of time is required to gather input data and verify the validity of model outputs. These more complex models are useful in estimating the likely consequences of various watershed management scenarios before actually placing management practices on the watershed.

Models are valuable tools in assessment, planning and implementation projects. During an assessment project, models can be used to estimate watershed conditions, such as water quality and flooding, in watersheds where little previous study or analysis is available. In a planning project a model is used to determine the combinations of actions (management scenarios) that will achieve goals a stakeholder committee has set for the watershed. If there are several management scenarios that achieve watershed goals, planners can estimate the implementation costs of each scenario and select the management scenario that is least costly, and is the least disruptive to cultures and traditions. Models can also be used during plan implementation to estimate watershed condition improvements resulting from actions that have been implemented. Using models in this way can help managers determine when it is cost effective to initiate water quality sampling activities.

Models can be used to predict flooding, water quality conditions, wildlife populations, water shortages, and many other variables in the watershed.

6) Preparing a Watershed Assessment Project report

The final component of an Assessment Project is a written report that:

  • Identifies public education and involvement efforts, including the work of the Local Leadership Team
  • Describes how the criteria were used to assess watershed conditions
  • Summarizes the information gained through inventories and how they were conducted
  • Identifies needs for restoration activities and opportunities for protective actions
  • Summarizes the information gained through modeling and monitoring activities, and describes the models that were utilized