Criteria to measure progress

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Watershed Management Process
Build Partnerships
Characterize the Watershed
Set Goals and Identify Solutions
Design an Implementation Program
Implement the Watershed Plan
Measure Progress and Make Adjustments

As part of your implementation program, you should set some criteria by which you'll determine whether you are achieving load reductions over time and making progress toward meeting your overall watershed goals. These criteria can also support an adaptive management approach by providing mechanisms by which to reevaluate implementation plans if you're not making substantial progress toward meeting your watershed goals. This section should result in element h of the nine elements. Element h is “a set of criteria that can be used to determine whether loading reductions are being achieved over time and substantial progress is being made toward attaining water quality standards.”

These criteria can be expressed as indicators and associated interim target values. You will want to select indicators that will provide quantitative measurements of progress toward meeting the goals and can be easily communicated to various audiences. It is important to remember that these indicators and associated interim targets will serve as a trigger, in that if the criteria indicate that you are not making substantial progress, you should consider changing your implementation approach. These 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).

The indicators and interim target values selected should reflect the performance of the management measures being implemented, the concerns identified early in the process by stakeholders, and the refined goals that were outlined. Because of the confounding, dynamic conditions that occur in a watershed, you should be careful how you interpret these indicators once implementation begins. Table 12-1 (see below) of EPA's Watershed Handbook demonstrates how you can use a suite of indicators to measure progress in reducing pollutant loads depending on the issues of concern.

There are various factors to consider before setting criteria, such as the implementation schedule of the management measures, the nature of the pollutants, and the time frame for applying the criteria.

Table 12-1.


Suite of Indicators


  • Phosphorous load
  • Number of nuisance algae blooms
  • Transparency of waterbody or secchi depth
  • Frequency of taste and odor problems in water supply
  • Hypolimnetic dissolved oxygen in a lake or reservoir
  • Soil test phosphorus in agricultural fields

Pathogens (related to recreational use)

  • Bacteria counts
  • Compliance with water quality standards (single sample or geometric mean)
  • Number and duration of beach closings
  • Number of shellfish bed reopenings
  • Incidence of illness reported during recreation season


  • Total suspended solids concentration and load
  • Raw water quality at drinking water intake
  • Frequency and degree of dredging of agricultural ditches, impoundments, and water supply intake structures