Healthy Watersheds Partnership - Glossary

The Healthy Watershed Partnership has identified and defined key terms related to the health and assessment of watersheds. As you navigate through this Portal, you'll notice bolded terms. These are key terms that are included in the glossary; those terms and their definitions are provided below.

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HWP Definition
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Relevant Literature
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Biological integrity The capability of the ecosystem to support and maintain a balanced, resilient, integrated, adaptive assemblage of organisms having native species composition, diversity, and functional organization comparable to that of the expected reference habitat of the region. Karr and Dudley 1981; Karr et al. 1986
Ecological processes Biological, chemical, physical processes that sustain ecological systems, including: primary production (conversion of sun’s energy into organic matter through photosynthesis) and associated cycling of carbon, nutrients, hydrogen/oxygen, and other elements form physical environment (air, water, land) through organisms and back into physical environment. EPA Report on Environment
Ecosystem services The benefits obtained from ecosystems whether for their intrinsic value or for human well-being. These include provisioning services such as food and water; regulating services such as flood and disease control; cultural services such as spiritual, recreational, and cultural benefits; and supporting services, such as nutrient cycling, that maintain the conditions for life on Earth. Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2005; Moreno et al. 2019
Function Role(s) provided by the local structures of landscape at the site or reach scale, such as wildlife habitat, salmon spawning habitat, flow attenuation, flood storage, groundwater recharge, etc. Puget Sound Characterization 2016
Healthy watershed A watershed with the ability to provide ecosystem services while maintaining functional and structural components, such as: intact and functioning headwaters, wetlands, floodplains, riparian corridors, biotic refugia, instream and lake habitat, and biotic communities; natural vegetation in the landscape; natural hydrology; sediment transport and fluvial geomorphology; and natural disturbance regimes expected for its location. Flotemersch et al. 2016
Watershed Land area that drains to creeks, streams, and rivers, and eventually to outflow points such as reservoirs, bays, and the ocean, and affects the water quality and aquatic ecosystem in the water body it surrounds NOAA Ocean Service; USEPA
Watershed assessment Refers to a general methodology for evaluating both the conditions of riverine ecosystems and the landscape and land-use factors that influence those conditions. Primary purpose of watershed assessments are to identify causes of habitat degradation, list necessary restoration actions, and determine which of those actions are most likely to achieve restoration goals. Beechie et al. 2003; Roni et al. 2012
Watershed health The degree to which a watershed is able to provide ecosystem services while maintaining functional and structural components, relative to the maximum possible level of function and structure, as described in the “Healthy Watershed” definition Flotemersch et al. 2016; Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
Watershed integrity The capacity of a watershed to support and maintain the full range of ecological processes and functions essential to the sustainability of biodiversity and of the watershed resources and ecosystem services. Flotemersch et al. 2016
Watershed processes Dynamic physical and chemical interactions that form and maintain the landscape and ecosystems (on a geographic scale of watershed to basins [i.e., hundreds to thousands of square miles]). This includes the movement of water, sediment, nutrients, pathogens, chemicals and wood. Processes lead to structures which provide function. Roni and Beechie 2012; Puget Sound Characterization 2016
Watershed resilience The capacity of a system to absorb disturbance so as to still retain essentially the same function, structure, and ecosystem services. Walker et al. 2004; Flotemersch et al. 2016
Watershed structure Features of the landscape at the site scale created and maintained by the controlling processes, for example stream channel shape, floodplain, slope wetlands, estuaries, etc. Puget Sound Characterization 2016

*See the Relevant Literature page for full citations and links to cited sources