On March 22, 2011, the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the designation of the Kentucky Water Resources Research Institute at the University of Kentucky (UK) as a Center of Excellence for Watershed Management. This is the first Center of Excellence to be designated in Kentucky and the seventh in the Southeast.Participants in the ceremony included: University of Kentucky President Lee T. Todd, Jr., EPA Region IV Deputy Director for Water Programs Doug Mundrick, Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet (KEEC) Secretary Len Peters and Kentucky Water Resources Research Institute (KWRRI) Director Lindell Ormsbee.
To become a recognized Center of Excellence, the institution must demonstrate technical expertise in identifying and addressing watershed needs; involvement of students, staff and faculty in watershed research; capability to involve the full suite of disciplines needed for all aspects of watershed management; financial ability to become self-sustaining; ability to deliver and account for results; willingness to partner with other institutions; and support from the highest levels of the organization.
Some of the benefits of being a recognized Center of Excellence include receipt of EPA technical assistance where needed (instructors, speakers, etc); promotion of the Center of Excellence to stakeholders; EPA letters of support for grant opportunities; and identification of opportunities for Center of Excellence involvement in local and regional watershed issues.
For decades, EPA and KEEC have protected Kentucky's lakes, rivers and wetlands by regulating specific points of pollution; the most common of these being sewage treatment plants and factories. Although this approach led to the successful cleanup of many waterways, others still remain polluted from sources not as easily regulated. These more subtle sources include farms, streets, parking lots, lawns, rooftops or any other surfaces that come in contact with rainwater. Today, EPA and KEEC take a broader approach to water protection, looking at both the individual waterway and the watershed in which it is located.
Started in 2007, the EPA Region 4 Centers of Excellence for Watershed Management Program works with colleges and universities from across the Southeast to provide hands-on, practical products and services for communities to identify watershed problems and solve them. Each EPA designated Center actively seeks out watershed-based stakeholder groups and local governments that need cost effective tools for watershed scientific studies, engineering designs and computer mapping, as well as assistance with legal issues, project management, public education and planning.
The USEPA has established several requirements in order to be considered as a possible Center of Excellence for Watershed Management. These include:
- Technical expertise to identify and address the needs of local watershed stakeholders and governments.
- Involvement of students, staff, and faculty applying research and conducting activities that solve issues at the watershed scale:
- Capability to involve the full suite of college or university disciplines needed for all aspects of watershed management:
- Financial ability to become self-sustaining after a period of time:
- Capability to deliver and account for results related to watershed improvement and sustainability:
- Willingness to partner with other institutions, especially those in the Center of Excellence Network:
- Support at the highest levels of the university or college:
To participate in the Center for Excellence Program and help the EPA achieve their strategic goals, each institution must agree to meet the following measures over a five year period:
- Be able to identify a minimum of ten watershed stakeholder organizations or local governments that have been supported by the work of the institution.
- Help develop Watershed-Based Plans that meet EPA's current Guidelines for the Clean Water Act 319 program in at least five watersheds.
- Have at least one Watershed-Based Plan (that meets EPA's current Guidelines for the Clean Water Act 319 program) substantially implemented such that the actions in the plan are completed or underway