Lesson 27 Monitoring of Watershed Programs

27.1 Background to Watershed Program Monitoring

Monitoring is an important component for planning, implementation and completion of an integrated watershed development project. Monitoring is inherently related to project activities.  It is a diagnostic study that helps in decision-making and policy changes of the ongoing project. Both  monitoring  and  evaluation  of  a  project  are important  for  funding  authorities  of the project.

Monitoring is a process of continuous assessment of project activities in the context of implementing schedules. Monitoring takes care of day-to-day progress and management of the project. It is the regular observation and recording of activities taking place in the watershed project and also a process of routinely gathering information or data on all aspects of the project.  Monitoring involves checking on how the project activities are progressing. It also involves giving feedback about the progress of the project to the donors/sponsors and beneficiaries of the project. The gathered data are used in making decisions for improving project performance.

Watershed development committee (WDC), Project implementation agency (PIA) and District rural development agency (DRDA) have special monitoring tools, system and tables for recording the monitored data. Thus,  monitoring  setup involves  defining  the objectives· of  monitoring system to design a program  to  systematically look after the achievements, to select the indicators, location, ·metho.ds and  frequency  of  observation  and  to  organize, motivate  and  train  people.  

Evaluation  gathers information .from  the  observed  data  on monitoring .and  these are presented  in a  form which  is easy  to understand.  Evaluation may require some additional studies to obtain data which are available  for monitoring. Different investigators have worked on monitoring and evaluation of the watershed project.

Purpose of Monitoring

The purposes of monitoring watershed programs are as follows:

  1. To carry out the analysis of the situation in the village community and the project and to determine whether the inputs in the project are well utilized.

  2. To study the problems faced by the community in carrying out the project are identified to find a solution. And thereby it ensures that all activities are carried out properly by the right people and in time.

  3. To determine whether project plan is suitable for solving the problem at hand.

Monitoring Tools

Numerous monitoring tools are available to determine the values of indicators over time. Some of the commonly used tools are as follows:

(a)      Community workshops are arranged to evaluate the extent of performance and achievement.

(b)     Farmers can record their simple and easily observable changes in their farms in logbooks. These records produce information in detail.

(c)      Community may evaluate some technical indicators such as sediment yield, fodder productivity, change in quality of the living standard, crop productivity, inv9lvement of self-help groups (SHGs) or user groups (UGs) etc.

(d)     Geographical information system (GIS) is another monitoring tool which can provide  lot of  information

(e)      Field indicators such as soil denudation, advance or reduction in gullies, land use

  • Pattern and changes, channel scouring etc. are  observed and measured.

(f)       Remote sensing satellite imaginaries and aerial photographs are to be taken at the beginning of the project and it should be repeated periodically

(g)      Video monitoring

(h)     Hydro-meteorological data measurements

(i)        Watershed modeling

27.2 Scheduled and Unscheduled Monitoring of Watershed Programs

As part of developing the watershed plan, one should develop a monitoring component to track and evaluate the effectiveness of the implementation efforts using the criteria developed in the previous section.

This phase of the watershed planning process should result in element i of the nine elements for awarding grants. Element i is “A monitoring component to evaluate the effectiveness of the implementation efforts over time, measured against the criteria established to determine whether loading reductions are being achieved over time and substantial progress is being made toward attaining water quality standards.”

Monitoring programs can be designed to track progress in meeting load reduction goals and attaining water quality standards, but there are significant challenges to overcome. Clear communication between program and monitoring managers is important to specify monitoring objectives that, if achieved, will provide the data necessary to satisfy all relevant management objectives. The selection of monitoring designs, sites, parameters, and sampling frequencies should be driven by the agreed-upon monitoring objectives, although some compromises are usually necessary because of factors like site accessibility, sample preservation concerns, staffing, logistics, and costs. If compromises are made because of constraints, it’s important to determine whether the monitoring objectives will still be met with the modified plan. There is always some uncertainty in monitoring efforts, but to knowingly implement a monitoring plan that is fairly certain to fail is a complete waste of time, effort, and resources. Because statistical analysis is usually critical to the interpretation of monitoring results, it’s usually wise to consult a statistician during the design of a monitoring program.

Measurable progress is critical to ensuring continued support of watershed projects, and progress is best demonstrated with the use of monitoring data that accurately reflect water quality conditions relevant to the identified problems. All too frequently watershed managers rely on modeling projections or other indirect measures of success (e.g., implementation of management measures) to document achievement, and in some cases this approach can result in a backlash later when monitoring data show that actual progress does not match the projections based on surrogate information.

There is no doubt that good monitoring can be complex and expensive. Monitoring can be done at numerous levels; the most important criterion is that the monitoring component should be designed in concert with your objectives. If documenting the performance of particular manage practices under seasonal conditions is important, a detailed and intensive water quality monitoring regime might be included. If your objective is to restore Swimming at a beach previously closed, you might monitor progress by keeping track of the number of days the beach is open or the number of swimmers visiting the beach. If restoration of life in a stream is the objective, annual sampling of benthic invertebrates and fish might be included, or a count of anglers and a creel census could be useful. If another agency is already conducting monitoring (e.g., making annual measurements of phosphorus load or regulating shellfish beds based on bacteria counts), you might be able to use such ongoing monitoring to track your project’s progress. Regardless of the specific objective, keep in mind that documental measures your water quality goals are important.

Because of natural variability, one of the challenges in water quality monitoring is to be able to demonstrate a link between the implementation of management measures and water quality improvements. To facilitate being able to make this connection, the following elements should be considered when developing a monitoring program.

The monitoring component, which will be used to assess the effectiveness of implementation strategies, can also be used to address other important information needs in the watershed with minimal changes or additional resources. We should consider a range of objectives like the following when developing your monitoring program:

  • Analyze long-term trends.

  • Document changes in management and pollutant source activities in the watershed.

  • Measure performance of specific management practices or implementation sites.

  • Calibrate or validate models.

  • Fill data gaps in watershed characterization.

  • Track compliance and enforcement in point sources.

  • Provide data for educating and informing stakeholders.

When developing a monitoring design to meet our objectives, it is important to understand bow the monitoring data will be used. We need to ask ourselves the following questions:

  • What questions are we trying to answer?

  • What assessment techniques will be used?

  • What statistical tools and precision are needed?

  • Can we control for the effects of weather and other sources of variation?

  • Will our monitoring design allow us to attribute changes in water quality to the implementation program?

The answers to these questions will help to determine the data quality objectives (DQOs),that are critical to ensuring that the right data are collected. These DQOs also take into consideration practical constraints like budget, time, personnel, and reporting requirements and capabilities. Parameters measured, sampling locations, sampling and analysis methods, and sample frequency are determined accordingly. It’s helpful to know the degree of measurement variability you might encounter for a given parameter method and watershed. If variability in a parameter concentration or value is relatively high because of natural or methodological causes, it will be difficult to identify actual improvements over time. You might need to collect more samples, consider different methods, make more careful site selections, select different parameters or indicators, or use a combination of approaches.

Monitor Land Use Changes in Conjunction with Water Quality Monitoring

The monitoring component of the watershed plan should include not only water quality monitoring but also monitoring on the land, including the land treatments being implemented and the land use activities that contribute to nonpoint source loads. Land treatment tracking is important to determine whether the plan is being implemented appropriately and in a timely manner. At a minimum, we should track where and when practices were installed and became operational. But we should look beyond money spent or points on a map and consider how the measures are working. Structural practices like waste storage lagoons or sediment basins might be easy to see and count, but their associated management activities are more difficult to monitor. How have nitrogen and phosphorus applications changed under nutrient management? Are riparian buffers filtering sheet flow or is runoff channelized through the buffer area? Are contractors following erosion and sediment control plans?

Sometimes such questions can be answered only by asking the landowners. Some agricultural watershed projects have had success in asking farmers to keep records of tillage, manure and fertilizer application, harvest, and other management activities. Several projects used log books and regular interviews by local crop management consultants to gather such information. In urban settings, public works staff can be valuable sources of information. Aerial photography and windshield or foot surveys are also useful. We should remember to monitor not just where implementation is occurring but in all areas in the watershed that might contribute to nonpoint source loads.

A good land treatment/land use monitoring program will help us to:

  • Know when and where measures are implemented and operational

  • Determine whether measures are working as planned and how much they have accomplished

  • Assess contributions of non-implementation areas to watershed nonpoint loads

  • Prevent surprises

Surprises can derail the best watershed plan. An accidental release from a waste storage facility, a truck spill, land use changes, technology adoption, or the isolated actions of a single bad actor can have serious water quality consequences and, if the source is not documented, can cause you to question the effectiveness of your plan.

The result of a good land use/land treatment monitoring program is a database of independent variables that will help you explain changes in water quality down the road. The ability to attribute water quality changes to your implementation program or to other factors will be critical as you evaluate the effectiveness of the implementation effort and make midcourse plan corrections.

27.3 Post Monitoring Suggestions in Watershed Programs

Monitoring for Several Years before and after Implementation

To increase our chances of documenting water quality changes, we should conduct multiple years of monitoring both before and after implementing management measures. Year to year variability is often so large that at least 2 to 3 years each of pre- and post-management practice implementation monitoring might be necessary to document a significant water quality change following management practice implementation. Also, longer-duration monitoring might be necessary where water quality changes are likely to occur gradually. Sampling frequency and collection should be consistent across years.

Keywords: Watershed program monitoring, Water quality monitoring, Long term watershed monitoring, Land use change monitoring.


  • United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), (2008). Handbook for Developing Watershed Plans to Restore and Protect Our Waters, USEPA, pp. 12-10 to 12-14.

  • Das, M. M. and Saikia, M. D. (2013). Watershed Management, PHI Learning.

Suggested Reading

  • Agarwal, A., Narain, S. and Khurana, I. (2001). Making Water Everybody’s Business, Centre for Science and Environment.

  • Dogra, P. (2004). Monitoring and Evaluation of Watershed Management Programmes. Summer School on Participatory Integrated Watershed Management, Compiled by A. S. Mishra and V. N. Sharda, pp. 310-318.

  • Sharda, V. N. and Dogra, P. (2011). Technical Indicators to Evaluate Watershed Development Programmes. Proceeding of ‘Methodological issues in assessing impact of watershed programmes’. Sant Kumar, Alok K. Sikka and Suresh A. [Ed.],  National Center for Agricultural Economics and Policy Research (NCAP), New Delhi and National Rainfed Area Authority, Planning Commission, Govt. of India, New Delhi. pp. 34-44.

Last modified: Friday, 7 February 2014, 9:37 AM