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Mississippi’s NPS Program works collaboratively with partners to target priority watersheds throughout the state. Prioritization of these watersheds involves coordination with Basin Team members, stakeholders, and resource agency partners as part of the BMA.

Over the years, the process used to prioritize and target watersheds for NPS pollution management has evolved. The focus of water resources management nationwide has moved to implementation and measuring success on smaller scales, mostly watersheds classified at the hydrologic unit code (HUC) 12 scale (i.e., 25,000 to 30,000 acres) or smaller. The Mississippi watershed prioritization process reflects this focus on a smaller scale planning framework. Instead of focusing on entire river basins or larger HUC 8 scales, prioritization and planning is now focused on these smaller HUC 12 watersheds.

In Mississippi there are 1,468 HUC 12 watersheds. To help manage the workload of selecting priority and targeted watersheds from 1,468 HUC 12 watersheds, the Mississippi NPS Program relies on partnerships established through the Basin Management Approach. Partners help first identify watersheds of interest for the state, and then work within our Basin Teams to recommend priority watersheds to target for NPS pollution management projects funded from Section 319 grant funds.

In order to fund watershed scale implementation projects using Section 319 dollars, the watershed must have been identified as a “priority” and listed in the Mississippi NPS Program Plan. Every 5 years, the Mississippi NPS Program works with state and federal resource agency partners, institutes of higher learning, non-profit governmental organizations, and local partners and stakeholders to develop a statewide list of watersheds of interest for water quality management. This list is reviewed annually and revised, based on partner interest, agency priorities, and leveraging opportunities, so it represents an inclusive list of watersheds that have priority status for implementation of NPS pollution management projects. This final list is the starting point for all Basin Teams when the process of ranking watersheds begins. See Appendix B for a full list of priority watersheds identified by MS’s NPS Program for FY20-24.

For each watershed identified as a priority for NPS pollution management through the Mississippi NPS Program, a Watershed Implementation Team (WIT) is formed. This team is generally composed of local stakeholders, resource agency partners, and any other interested party located within the watershed boundaries. The first responsibility of a WIT is to help gather the necessary information and write a Watershed-based Plan (WBP) for their watershed. Information used in preparing WBPs includes the results of water quality assessments, stressor identification studies, water quality modeling, and TMDLs. This information guides WIT decisions on the types and location of restoration and protection activities to plan in a watershed. In watersheds that have TMDLs, they are used to provide water quality restoration objectives and pollutant load reduction goals for the WBP.

These WBPs are intended to be holistic in nature addressing the wide range of water management concerns unique to that watershed. The primary focus of these plans is water quality, and as a result, provides a roadmap for how conservation and education activities can be implemented in the watershed to achieve water quality improvement goals. To the extent possible, WBPs identify all sources of water pollution, both point source and NPS, regulated and unregulated. Thus, most WBPs address more than one category of NPS pollution. Along with identifying pollution sources, these plans also outline potential solutions to reduce and/or prevent NPS pollution and restore or protect designated uses in a watershed.

Although many different types of information is useful and can be included in a watershed plan, EPA has identified nine key elements that are critical for achieving improvements in water quality. To be eligible for funding through §319 subgrant, NPS pollution management watershed projects must be associated with a WBP that includes the “nine key elements” identified by EPA (Figure 1). Thus, the Mississippi NPS Program requires that these key elements be included in all WBPs. To assist WITs in this effort, the MDEQ Basin Management and NPS Branch developed a guidance document entitled Mississippi Watershed Implementation Plan Guidance Compatible with Section 319 Grant Requirements to help develop plans that address all nine elements.