Institute for Water Resources


Shared Vision Planning

Step 2 - Develop Objectives and Metrics for Evaluation

 A planning objective is a concise, formally structured statement which explains how and when a study will try to affect a specific water use in a specific place.

Developing good planning objectives early is paradoxically the most important and most often ignored step in the planning process. How can a team manage to achieve objectives if they have not agreed on what those objectives are?

The best way to describe planning objectives is to provide examples. Table 2 walks the reader through developing a planning objective, and Table 3 provides examples of planning objectives for a typical Drought Preparedness Study (DPS) encountered in the National Drought Study

Table 2:  Writing a Planning Objective

Describe the problems in a sentence or two

During a recent drought, the number of whitewater rafting days was severely restricted, with millions of dollars in lost regional revenue.

Use a verb or action phrase which expresses what the team is trying to do (increase, enhance, reduce, mitigate, etc.) regarding a resource (water withdrawal, instream flows, etc.) in the context of the perceived value of the resource (M&I uses, fish habitat, etc.)

Increase the number of days of whitewater rafting

Add to that clause (verb, resource and context), the geographic area of concern (in the lower James Basin).

between Ogle Point and Deadman’s Whirlpool

Finally, say whether this is a dynamic or static change.  If demand is not expected to change in the future, then the problem strikes whenever a meteorological drought occurs.  But if demand is increasing, or becoming more complex, then the problem may occur more often or to a greater degree in the future.  The former condition can often be remedied completely with a tactical drought contingency plan.  The latter may be better addressed in strategic planning because demand is outgrowing the structures, institutions and laws, which were once adequate.

during droughts would be static;


if conditions were expected to change for better or worse, then that should be stated as part of the objective:


during droughts until the Oglethorpe water supply project is completed

Verbs commonly used in the action phrase include:  advance, compensate for, conserve, contribute to, control, create, destroy, develop, eliminate, enforce, enhance, establish, exchange, improve, maintain, manage, minimize, mitigate, preserve, produce, promote, protect, provide, reclaim, reconstruct, recover, recreate, rectify, reduce, rehabilitate, repair, replace, restore, retire, stabilize, or substitute.


Table 3:  Planning Objectives for a Typical DPS

Kanawha River Basin DPS Planning Objectives

Problems:  During a drought…

Planning Objectives

1.  Whitewater rafting on the Gauley River is restricted

1.  Increase the reliability and value of the Gauley River whitewater rafting experience during drought conditions

2.  Corps reservoirs are drawn down to meet downstream water needs.  In-lake recreation suffers when drawdown is significant

2.  Increase reliability of the recreational opportunities on lakes in the Kanawha River basin during drought

3.  Normal navigation pools could be difficult to maintain resulting in disruptions to navigation traffic

3.  Maintain navigation on the Kanawha River during drought

4.  Flows in the Kanawha River could decrease such that losses to hydropower generation at the Corps of Engineers lock and dam projects could occur

4.  Maximize hydropower generation in the Kanawha River basin during drought

Since the development of planning objectives sets the stage for the entire planning process, it is important that the concept of a "planning objective" is clarified as much as possible. Therefore, the following list identifies things that are not planning objectives, helping planners avoid hindering the planning process by developing false planning objectives.

 Examples of what are not planning objectives

  • "To increase economic benefits" —  This is a broad goal at the regional level, and cuts across several objectives.
  • "Build a desalinization plant" —  This is a means, not an objective.
  • "Eliminate water supply shortfalls" — Measures should be “sized” after consideration of their costs.
  • "Assess the impacts of droughts" — This is a study procedure, not an end in itself.
  • "Reduce groundings in the channel" — This could be achieved by banning navigation.  An objective along these lines would read:  to improve navigation between (point A and B) during drought.
  • "Maintain instream flows between river miles 300 and 305 at 800 cfs or above" — This is a constraint rather than an objective.  An objective might read: to enhance water quality for fish habitat between river miles 300 and 305 during droughts. 

In addition to planning objectives, the study team should also develop statistical measures of the performance of the water system relative to the needs of the user.  The development of these measures is essentially a technical assignment, but the acceptance and relevance of performance measures can be confirmed in workshops and stakeholder interviews.  Examples of performance measures are shown in Table 4.

Table 4:  Typical Measures of Performance

Water Use Category

Typical Performance Measure


Frequency of failure to meet unconstrained demand


Frequency and duration of supply failures


Frequency and duration of channel closing or imposition of light loading requirements

Lake Recreation

Frequency and duration the boat ramps are out of water

River Recreation

Frequency and duration of depths or flows too low for recreation


Power produced, or frequency of failure to meet minimum levels of production

Fish Habitat

Frequency of failure to meet minimum flow targets


Probability of failure to supply water needs for this year’s plantings

An alternative may produce economic effects by changing the level of activity in several water purposes. For example, changing the rules for reservoir releases may change the level of hydropower production, navigation and several forms of lake and riverine recreation. The change in each activity will have economic consequences. Establishing an account for these economic effects allows the total economic effect of an alternative to be summed and compared to the total economic effect of other alternatives. Accounts can also be established for environmental quality, social well being and equity, although (unlike the economic account) there is almost certain to be more than one unit of measurement for the effects within any one of these accounts. 

The use of the accounts not only helps organize the effects, it can help planners understand distinctions between the ends of different stakeholders who support the same means. For example, a team may be working under a constraint to provide instream flows for fish. The constraint may be managed by a state fish and game agency and supported by a Native American tribe, an environmental group, and an association of small businesses that outfit tourists who come to fish. The number of days that stream flows fell below the minimum standard would be a simple, useful performance measure, but it would not reflect the complexity of the effects of failing to meet the standard.

The environmental group might support the minimum flow standard because it helps preserve a threatened or endangered species (an environmental effect). The tourists may be concerned about the decreased opportunity to fish, an impact that can be measured in economic terms according to their willingness to pay for that experience. The outfitters would have a special concern for their own viability. If reducing instream flows would bankrupt a class of businesses, that alternative might be judged inequitable. The tribal concern could be for the maintenance of a traditional, formal social activity. Knowing the ultimate objectives of each stakeholder group can help DPS teams develop and estimate the acceptability of alternative management plans.

Table 5 provides a checklist of water uses, problems, planning objectives and performance measures that could be used during this stage in the planning process to ensure that all the stakeholder issues are addressed, objectives are determined, and ways to measure the performance of alternative plans against those objectives is accomplished.

Table 5: Checklist of Water Uses, Problems, and Evaluation Measures

Checklist of Water Uses, Problems, and Evaluation Measures

Water Use


Planning Objectives

Measures of Performance

Decision Criteria

Related Economic, Social, Environmental Impacts







Livestock Watering






Municipal Water






Industrial Water












Lake Recreation






River Recreation






Water Quality (Dilution)






Fish & Wildlife Habitat






Flood Control