Evaluate Progress Toward Source Water Protection Goals
The final step in the source water protection process is to establish a framework for measuring the effectiveness of management strategies and tracking progress towards achieving established goals. Periodic (or continuous) program evaluation allows for an adaptive management approach and can generate information about gaps or shortcomings that can be used to make adjustments to program elements, whether that be the source water protection vision, goals, source characterization, or implementation tasks. The evaluation component should not be viewed as a one-time task but as a continuous effort to reassess and revise strategies based on the latest available information. This will improve overall efficiency and quality of the program.
Demonstrating measurable progress is also critical to ensuring continued support for source water protection projects. Many stakeholders that have invested in planning and implementation will want to know if the plan is making a difference and whether resource gaps remain. Regularly sharing information on progress and implementation results with stakeholders creates transparency and can help maintain credibility and support for protection efforts. For example, some source water partnerships have issued "report cards" or developed fact sheets, brochures, or annual reports to highlight successes.
Several basic elements of an evaluation framework include:
- Measurable goals and objectives towards which progress can be tracked and implementation success evaluated.
- Interim milestones and benchmark values against which to gauge whether management measures are performing as expected and implementation tasks have been completed according to schedule. If monitoring data indicates that the program is not meeting benchmark values or making substantial progress, it may indicate a need to update the management approach.
- Criteria by which to measure progress towards meeting source water protection goals. These criteria are often expressed as indicators and associated interim target values. Indicators might reflect a water quality condition that can be measured (dissolved oxygen, nitrogen, total suspended solids) or an action-related achievement that can be measured (pounds of trash removed, number of volunteers at the stream cleanup, length of stream corridor revegetated). In all cases, it is important to select criteria that will provide quantitative measurements and that can be easily communicated with various audiences.
- A monitoring program to collect data to be used to track and analyze the effectiveness of implementation efforts, according to identified criteria.