The use of SMART indicators (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timebound) can help determine why, what, when and where adjustments are needed to improve watershed management practices, or to re-affirm staying-the-course and maintain existing practices.
Some of the characteristics of a good watershed indicator includes the following:
- Reflect watershed health — indicators should convey an understanding of ecosystem functions by characterizing some component important to watershed health. Indicators must be applicable and measurable throughout the watershed or have a significant relevance to a portion of the watershed.
- Objective and comparable — indicators should be readily measurable. The underlying data should be characterized by sound collection methodologies and quality assurance procedures. The data must be comparable across time and space, allowing one to compare with historic conditions and standards within a watershed while also allowing for comparison between watersheds.
- Sensitive to stressors — indicators must detect and reflect changes in the environment, and in doing so, provide insight into the cause-and-effect relationships between environmental stressors and ecosystem response. The indicator must allow the observer to distinguish between inherent variability (eg: innate annual fluctuations) and a true environmental signal arising from stress upon the system.
- Interpretable and understandable — indicators should present information in a clear, unambiguous format understood and accepted by scientists, policy-makers and the public. A good indicator can simplify large amounts of information into a concise easily understood format, such as the Alberta Surface Water Quality Index.
- Relevant to societal concerns — indicators must provide information pertinent to societal concerns about local or regional ecological conditions and clearly relate to one or more identified assessment questions.
- Measure progress — indicators should be linked to performance indicators, and measure progress toward the community’s management goals and objectives. In this way, indicators will provide meaningful feedback on priorities and the means for affectively achieving healthier watersheds.
- Cost-effective to monitor — indicators should be capable of being monitored at reasonable cost to provide statistically verifiable and reproducible data that shows changes in the environment. Ideally, indicators will maximize datasharing and use of existing information and be an effective assessment of watershed health. Watersheds are dynamic and typically complex. A single indicator is seldom used to determine watershed health — a combination of indicators is required to assess the health of a watershed in its entirety. Taken together, a set of indicators should convey an understanding of how the components within the ecosystem interact and contribute to the watershed’s current condition.
If you would like to learn even more about environmental and watershed indicators, we also recommend “Indicators for Assessing Environmental Performance of Watersheds in Southern Alberta” (source: Alberta Environment).