SMP Nuts and Bolts

Identify, Evaluate, and Prioritize Potential Actions

Now it’s time to develop, evaluate, and prioritize potential actions which, when implemented, can result in outcomes that make progress toward the stated objectives. These activities collectively create the basis for an implementation plan.

Steps for successfully executing plan outcomes:


Identify Potential Actions


Evaluate and Prioritize Actions


Develop an Implementation Plan

Identify Potential Actions

Ideas for actions may be drawn from stakeholders, the local Basin Roundtable Implementation Plan, local studies, or engineering evaluations. Variations or alternatives associated with each action item might be important to consider as well. Examples include physical modifications of stream channels and floodplains, water leasing, water conveyance system efficiency upgrades, water application system efficiency upgrades, municipal water supply conservation programs, water diversion infrastructure modification, and reservoir development or re-operation.

Consider that potential actions may take years or even generations to implement. It will be important to document actions whether they are prioritized or not. The Crystal River Management Plan (Section 5) considered a wide array of market-based programs, efficiency measures, water supply projects, and channel modifications for achieving the project objectives. To consider the trade-offs of various management alternatives, they used a facilitated stakeholder process to explore the political will, capital and ongoing maintenance costs, administrative and legal constraints, community expectations for water use, and the potential for leveraging existing projects or plans. This allowed them to focus recommended actions on a smaller set of alternatives that were palatable to the leadership team.

Evaluate and Prioritize Actions

Prioritizing actions accounts for the action’s practical feasibility, as well as its potential benefit or impact. Factors to consider include:


Political and Public Support

How well does the project address stakeholder/ community values? Does the action have support from elected officials and is there political will to accomplish it?


Is the action allowed under existing water law and land use regulations?


Are there funding sources available for the total capital cost and ongoing maintenance/operations costs?

Property Ownership and Accessibility

If the action is on private land, how willing are the landowners? If on public land, what is the process for and likelihood of gaining approval?


Does the community have the leadership, staff resources, capabilities, and underlying structures to administer and maintain the action?

Partnership Opportunities

Are there ready partners for funding and collaboration that can be leveraged to expand the benefits of the action?



How effective at meeting project objectives is the action?

Unintended Consequences

Will implementing the action have unintended consequences that should be considered? How does improving one aspect of the stream impact other community needs? For example, irrigation efficiency improvements may impact plant communities that rely on them, or bank stability measures may move erosion and deposition processes up or downstream.

Community Impact

Does the action advance other long-term community plans and goals?

Practical Approaches to Prioritization:

  • Position consultants to suggest solutions and receive feedback from the stakeholder group while enabling stakeholders to inform priorities and make decisions. Understand that the stakeholder group may not have the technical capacity to create solutions on their own.
  • Use small groups to develop lists of potential actions and prioritize them first, then advance the conversation to the larger stakeholder group for discussion, prioritization and adoption.
  • Consider prioritizing actions by focusing in on a few pilot projects or reaches, or by readiness for implementation (e.g., short, medium or long-term timeframe).
  • Have the stakeholder who would potentially be the lead fill out a worksheet addressing these criteria. Once all the worksheets are compiled, the full stakeholder group can review/rank the actions, resulting in a priority list. One SMP using this approach only included an action in their plan if the worksheet was completed, which indicated that the lead entity was serious about making that action happen. This exercise helps stakeholders consider whether they are willing to take the action on, if the action is realistic, and how the action fits into their priorities and work plans, all while cultivating leadership and buy-in.

Develop an Implementation Plan

The implementation plan is where stakeholders can collate the information compiled in the previous planning steps. This should help future readers understand the planning context and how recommendations for certain actions came to be.

Stakeholders should determine the appropriate level of detail associated with any given implementation plan. Some plans will be conceptual, while others may include some amount of engineering design. Regardless of the level of detail, implementation plans will generally identify project champions and include a budget, the availability of funding sources, the required technical or legal resources, and approximate implementation timelines.

Other tips that can be useful for developing an implementation plan include:


Provide ample time for this phase of the process. It can be challenging but will lead to an implementable plan if done well.


Consider the timeline for implementation, focusing on actions that can be acted on within the next two or three years.


Provide adequate detail for priority actions. Some organizations who completed SMPs reported that when they looked back on action items, details needed to implement the activities were too vague and thus made it difficult to move forward.


Longer-term actions, or high-priority actions that don’t have the funding or leadership support to enable implementation in the near-term, should be documented in the plan but with comparatively less detail than short-term actions because much will likely change by the time implementation occurs.


Acknowledge activities that are ongoing and important to advancing SMP objectives. Some plans did this in another section of the plan to distinguish from the new actions.


Consider the indirect benefits to the community and local economy. Will the action provide more recreational opportunities for locals? Will the action contribute to a diverse economy?


It may be important to establish a process for ongoing evaluation of projects. The Grand County SMP, which is being implemented as part of an intergovernmental stakeholder approach to restore and enhance the aquatic environment of Grand County, known as Learning By Doing, established a committee that will review potential projects each year based on the feasibility and benefit factors that are important at the time.



  1. In this peer call Lotic Hydrological and the Upper Gunnison Water Conservancy District discussed approaches to identifying and prioritizing potential actions to support the objectives in their SMP.
  2. The Rio Grande Restoration Project utilized this scoring matrix to prioritize projects based on benefits to recreation. Using a standard form to collectively rank projects helped ensure that interests were fairly represented and a diverse set of projects included in the plan.
  3. The City of Steamboat Springs created Action Implementation Summaries to organize rationale for each action. This worksheet was completed by lead entities to consider feasibility and then became the foundation for the implementation plan once prioritized by stakeholders.
  4. The Crystal River Management Plan is a completed stream management plan with examples of how to organize priority actions and future potential actions (Section 5, Identified Management Priorities).
  5. An example evaluation grid and visual aids for assessing feasibly and/or effectiveness is available on p.31 and p.32 of Integrated Watershed Management Planning in the Colorado River Basin.
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