Frequently Asked Questions about Watershed Management
What is a watershed?
A watershed is the area of land that drains surface water to a common basin such as a stream, river, lake or reservoir. Watersheds vary in size depending upon natural features of the land the water flows across.
View a larger image of the watershed illustration (right, click for larger image) courtesy of the Arkansas Watershed Advisory Group. (Click on the image at right or link above. A new window will open, then click on the image).
The three watersheds that supply raw water to the City of Columbus are Big Walnut Creek, the Upper Scioto River and Alum Creek. View a map of the Upper Scioto Watershed, which includes the Big Walnut Creek (displayed in dark green), the Upper Scioto (light green) and Alum Creek (yellow). Or view an alternative map of the Central Ohio Watershed completed with roads for ease of reference.
Why does the City of Columbus have a Watershed Management Office?
The mission of the program is to protect and maintain the quality of the water supply that Columbus and over 20 contracting communities use for drinking water. Functions include implementation of the Waterways Task Force Reservoir Management Plans; protection and enhancement of the natural resources surrounding the raw water supplies; jointly managing reservoir properties with the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department; providing security at the reservoirs; and performing maintenance of the reservoir facilities. View the History of Watershed Management & the Land Stewardship Program for more background information.
How is the Watershed Management Section funded?
Operational funds are provided through Columbus water customer billing revenue, unlike other city departments that are primarily funded by the tax revenue that goes into the city's general fund.
Why are there so many rules regarding city-owned land next to the reservoirs?
The basic reason is to protect the quality of Columbus' drinking water supply; limits to land usage along the reservoirs is a necessary component of that protection. The city must comply with all local, state and federal regulations related to the protection of water resources including the Clean Water Act (1972), which is enforced by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the Environmental Protection Agency. The USACE regulates activities permitted within navigable waterways, while the EPA regulates pollutants allowed within a waterway as a result of permitted activities within and immediately near that waterway.
How can I tell where my property ends and the city-owned property begins?
Documents to review include county auditor maps and your property survey. Locating the property pins would be helpful as well. If in doubt, please contact Watershed Management at 645-1287 to request a site visit to assist you.
How do I get a dock permit from the City of Columbus?
Begin by requesting a Land Stewardship information packet from the Watershed Management Section by calling 645-1287. Once your Land Stewardship Agreement and Plan are approved by the Watershed Management office, request a private dock, stake or mooring permit application from the Department of Recreation and Parks at 645-3337 or visit their Web site.
What is a Land Stewardship Agreement?
Residents who live along water reservoirs have a special responsibility to care for this vital resource in a way that will preserve it for future generations. This voluntary agreement between those who own property adjacent to city land surrounding the reservoirs and the City of Columbus provides residents an opportunity to actively participate in protecting the source of our community’s drinking water. The agreement allows for certain modifications to be made on the city's land bordering the property of a homeowner with an approved Land Stewardship Plan.
What is a Land Stewardship Plan?
Once a Land Stewardship Agreement is in place, property owners interested in certain use privileges of city land can submit a plan to the Watershed Management Section for approval. Such privileges may include specific and limited maintenance or planting certain trees and vegetation. Having a valid Land Stewardship Plan is a prerequisite to receiving a private dock, stake or mooring permit.
Is my Land Stewardship Agreement transferable to a new owner if I sell my house?
Yes, it may be possible; please give the Watershed Management Section written notice of any change of ownership and a new license agreement can be drafted.
What is an encroachment?
It is a legal term that for these purposes means a structure that lacks a valid permit from the City of Columbus or an unauthorized activity on city-owned land.
Is there a process to dispute encroachment notices and other issues involving the city-owned land along the reservoirs?
The courts can serve for such appeals when the city and property owner cannot come to a reasonable agreement. The first preference is to work with the Watershed Management staff - they will meet with the property owner on site to explain and try to come up with a workable solution.
Why can’t I continue to maintain city property as turf grass?
Land next to the reservoirs’ edge plays an important role in protecting the quality of our primary drinking water supply. Rain water and snow melt can carry chemicals, excess nutrients, sediments and many other pollutants miles from their origin. A deep-rooted vegetative buffer of native trees and plants protects against soil erosion and acts as a filter, keeping contaminants from entering the water.
Native plant roots can grow 15 to 20 feet deep while turf grass roots are typically only three inches long (graphic at right). The level of contaminants and soil particulates in our raw water supply also has an impact on drinking water treatment costs. Containing treatment costs helps keep water rates low for our customers. Click to see larger image.
Why are so many properties in the reservoir areas advertised as "waterfront" when they should be called "waterview" because, in reality, the city owns most of the land next to the reservoirs?
This is an issue Columbus Public Utilities staff members have pointed out to the central Ohio real estate community many times, but the problem persists. Our advice to any prospective home or land buyer is to do your research before the purchase and to check all documents at the time of closing to be perfectly clear about what you are buying.
For questions regarding Columbus Public Utilities Watershed Management program, please call (614) 645-1721 or e-mail Watershed Management.
For questions regarding private boat dock, stake or mooring permits, please contact the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department at (614) 645-3337.