An Assessment of Capacity and Resource Needs of North Carolina Watershed Programs

Across the United States, watershed protection efforts are often small-scale; they are frequently constrained by limited funding and organizational capacity, attenuation of volunteers and a lack of scientific information to guide decisions about restoration, management or policy options. In North Carolina, although many watershed protection resources exist, there are geographical gaps in coverage and disconnects in knowledge-sharing across the state. For these reasons, the UNC Institute for the Environment, Watershed Education for Communities and Officials, the Water Resources Research Institute, the Division of Water Quality (DWQ) in the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (NCDENR) and Triangle J Council of Governments formed a partnership in order to 1) identify existing watershed programs and resources (i.e., staff, volunteers, funding and skills), 2) assess and document any gaps in resources and geographical coverage, and 3) better understand programmatic needs and networking opportunities. Using internet searches and professional contacts, the partners compiled a database of more than 550 programs and individuals focused on watershed protection in North Carolina. Prior to this assessment, no comprehensive, statewide database of watershed programs existed. Programs with paid staff were selected from the database to receive a survey, and 161 people responded. (Input from watershed volunteers was collected in a second phase of this assessment.) Overall, the data indicate a strong base of professionally trained individuals and watershed programs in North Carolina, although respondents identified a need for continued skillbuilding and professional development for themselves and volunteers in their organizations. This study also identified several immediate opportunities for strategic partnerships that
could help respondents better use their existing skills and fill gaps where needed. A coordinated network that could facilitate partnerships, networking, and cross-training was highly desired by participants. While an online component of such a network would be effective for sharing information and connecting with others, face-to-face opportunities to learn were the preferred method of information delivery.
This assessment highlights the need to more effectively engage a variety of stakeholders and connect them to one another. It also shows broad interest in enhancing watershed outreach and education and increasing available funds for protecting local watersheds. Based on these results, the study team recommends the following actions:
1. Develop a searchable website of watershed programs and resources across the state.
2. Promote partnerships and cross-training among watershed professionals to address skill deficits.
3. Engage a variety of stakeholders in developing a statewide watershed stewardship network.
4. Actively involve local government staff and elected officials in management strategies.
5. Promote in-person networking through local, regional and statewide workshops and conferences.
6. Increase education about water quality impacts, stormwater and watershed protection.
These activities could serve as a foundation for a statewide watershed stewardship network, thereby building new resources for watershed protection.

An Assessment of Capacity and Resource Needs of North Carolina Watershed Programs. R. Cronk, M. Drostin, K. Grey, C. Perry, P. Beggs, N. Wilkinson, P. Clark, M. Schlegel. 2013. UNC Institute for the Environment: Chapel Hill, NC.