SMP Nuts and Bolts

Select Objectives and Measurable Results

Stream management plans (SMP) and integrated water management plans (IWMP) should recommend actions, projects and processes to support stream health, ideally in concert with other benefits the river provides to the community. Data gathered during the assess conditions step can inform the opportunities, locations and priorities for projects or actions.

Objectives and measurable results help transform data into a usable format from which stakeholders can make decisions. This step is where the SMP becomes as much an art as science.

The following steps will set objectives and measurable results to create a bridge from data assessment to the implementation plan:

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Foster Understanding of Data Among Stakeholders

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Identify Planning Objectives

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Identify Metrics for Evaluation

Foster Understanding of Data Among Stakeholders

Key stakeholders should have a common understanding of data before making decisions. Technical data can be challenging to digest and there are often disparities in the language and definitions that different industries use when talking about water. For example, an agricultural producer may use different language when discussing water than a municipal water provider would. The assessment framework used for prioritizing, organizing and characterizing data can be helpful, allowing stakeholders to explore data through report cards, visual aids, etc. Take the time to review and explain the data assessment so stakeholders can fully process the information.

Some questions that can help foster an understanding of data during stakeholder review include:

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Which data elements ring true and what doesn’t match up with local knowledge?

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What data elements do stakeholders relate to (issues, geography)?

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How does the data present/read? It is sensitive to the key stakeholders and broader community?

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What issues or trends are revealed in terms of existing conditions?

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What risks are evident to the watershed or community benefits?

Identify Planning Objectives

This step requires stakeholders to identify planning objectives that respond to issues and/or risks revealed through the data assessments. This is where the SMP’s focus may begin to narrow to a smaller set of issues, and where the data assessment starts to evolve into a plan. It is important to set objectives so that implementation actions can be measured against the priorities of the stakeholders who developed the plan.

If, for example, the assessment shows chronic low flows in an important trout habitat reach, an objective could be to decrease the number of days where flows are below an identified low-flow threshold. Other ecological objectives might deal with peak flows needed for sediment transport and fish passage, or conditions necessary to support to the health of riparian vegetation. Objectives built around other river community benefits could include reducing agricultural irrigation shortages, improving water delivery infrastructure, or increasing the duration of seasonal flows optimal for recreational boating.

Tips for a Successful Objective Setting Process:

Be responsive to the stakeholders and design the objective setting process to consider the specific culture and dynamic of the group and planning process to date. The people, relationships, size of group are all aspects to consider. Use the leadership/planning team to provide context and evaluate alternative approaches for the process.

Ensure that the group has had time to share and understand each other’s interests in the river. A successful objective setting process starts with the stakeholder engagement process.

Start with goal setting. Use the information gathered in the conditions assessment and through stakeholder dialogue to set general, unmeasurable goals that characterize priority issues and geographies (e.g., promote recreational use of the Colorado River between Rifle and DuBeque). It is useful to have this dialogue with the entire stakeholder group.

Objectives are measurable (as opposed to general goal statements) and should align with issues on specific river sections, as revealed through the conditions assessment. One approach could be to break stakeholders into small groups, allowing them to focus on issues or reaches that are most important to them or where they have expertise. Once objectives are drafted in small groups, stakeholders can then vet the results as a large group.

Objectives are subject to current priorities. It’s important to document all potential objectives even if they are not agreed/prioritized upon by all stakeholders. Priorities may change over time, which is why it is important not to compromise on the science behind the data.

Consider setting objectives by reach rather than the entire planning area. This can tease out similar properties of desired river function and position the conversation within how stakeholders might already view the river. In the end, some objectives may overlap multiple reaches.

Make sure stakeholders are aligned on their expectations/goals for which condition to return the river to (e.g., if the river segment is below a mine with a 303d listing, it may not be realistic to return the water to pre-mining quality, even with interventions).

Rely on trusted technical experts (e.g., Colorado Parks and Wildlife) that are part of your stakeholder team to help with discussions on technical aspects of the process. Spending time engaging them in the stakeholder team and building relationships can help position them as a trusted source for expertise among stakeholders.

SMP leaders have found that, without careful process, this phase often leads to conflict within the stakeholder group. The key to success is a solid and clear process, complete with facilitation, clear roles/expectations for stakeholders, meeting agreements, and clear outcomes. Be prepared to adapt the process and be responsive to change as stakeholder relationships develop/evolve and lessons are learned.

Identify Metrics for Evaluation

After building planning objectives around high-priority issues, stakeholders can identify the metrics that will be used to evaluate whether the objectives have been met. These measurable results may include measures of hydrological regime behavior, measures of riparian forest extent or community composition, biomass of specific fish species, reduced administrative calls on streams, the number of boatable days available to users in drought years, etc. Measurable results metrics should be as specific and quantitative as possible (e.g., 5 percent increase from 2018 baseline in floodplain inundation extent associated with the two-year peak flow). The most effective planning processes will characterize objectives with the metrics already used to assess conditions. These processes are successful because there is likely already infrastructure/process in place for long-term monitoring efforts to measure the effectiveness of implemented actions.

Resources

  1. This table identifies common SMP goals and possible key questions for anticipatory, reactionary and exploratory planning processes
  2. The City of Steamboat Springs used a matrix to organize eight key objectives, rationale, selected monitoring indicators, and targets for future conditions. While the matrix helped the team organize, stakeholders found that the tables written for their plan (Yampa River Health Assessment & Streamflow Management Plan, Management Objectives section, p.23) were a more user-friendly presentation.
  3. The City of Fort Collins’ State of the Poudre river health assessment included over 100 pages of information on different river health variables. To communicate that information, the city created a short report card and online data mapping system.
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