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EPA designates Center of Excellence for Watershed Management at University of Florida

 ATLANTA — The University of Florida’s Water Institute has been designated a Center of Excellence for Watershed Management, becoming the second such institution in the state. Representatives from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 4, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), and the University of Florida signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to help communities identify watershed-based problems and develop and implement locally sustainable solutions.

“A watershed approach is the most effective framework to engage communities and address today’s water resource challenges,” said EPA Regional Administrator Gwen Keyes Fleming. “This designation will allow the University of Florida to continue developing the strong partnerships with other institutions, organizations and agencies to protect and restore the unique watersheds throughout Florida.”

"We can achieve much more collectively, when we combine and leverage our resources, than as stand-alone organizations working independently," said Drew Bartlett, director of the FDEP’s Division of Environmental Assessment and Restoration. "This designation will lead to enhanced opportunities for collaboration between the University of Florida and FDEP with many mutual benefits. The University of Florida’s activities in watershed management, research, and education will help assist the department and local communities in identifying watershed issues and working toward solutions to improve water quality in their watersheds."

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.

"We are pleased to be named as a Center of Excellence for Watershed Management", said UF Water Institute Director Wendy Graham. "This designation highlights the Water Institute’s strong commitment to partner with watershed-based stakeholder groups and state and local agencies to tackle critical water issues requiring holistic interdisciplinary approaches. This initiative complements our other interdisciplinary research and education programs and provides an important resource for stakeholders with interest in developing solutions to water quality problems."

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 Florida have protected the state’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 FDEP 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.

More information about priority watersheds in the Southeast is available online at www.epa.gov/region4/water/watersheds/index.html.