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Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability

Review of the Implementation of the Surface Water Improvement and Management Program by the Department of Environmental Protection and the Five Water Management Districts , Report No. 95-20, December 1995
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  • Some progress has occurred since the SWIM Program was created in 1987, including the designation of SWIM priority water bodies, the development of SWIM plans, and a process for targeting and focusing resources through planning and coordination. Although some improvements have occurred to water quality and natural systems, the conditions that created the need for the SWIM Program largely still exist. However, significantly improving and preserving all of the SWIM water bodies will require additional long-term efforts and funding. In some areas of the state many of the adverse conditions that created the need for the SWIM Program still exist, including poor water quality, reductions in fish and wildlife, and contamination by pesticides, fertilizers, and heavy metals from runoff.
  • Several factors have hindered the SWIM Program's efforts to accomplish more significant changes, including limited funding, time required to achieve improvements, local land use decisions, and the Program's reliance on coordination to affect changes. DEP and Water Management District (WMD) staff contend that Program funding has not been sufficient to fully implement SWIM plans. The Program has experienced decreases in funding compared to the levels appropriated during the first three years, with no state funds appropriated for fiscal year 1995-96. Planning and implementing restoration and preservation activities is a time-consuming process. In addition, the Program does not have direct regulatory and land management authority to address adverse conditions that impact SWIM water body areas.
  • Although DEP and the WMDs have developed goals and objectives for the Program, they have not defined the overall outcome they hope to achieve for each water body. Assessing Program results and costs pose specific challenges for the SWIM Program due to the decentralized structure of the Program and the unique needs of the 27 water bodies. However, without an agreed-upon measurable outcome for SWIM water bodies, it is difficult to assess the success of the Program or the results achieved. The Legislature and Program managers are precluded from determining if the Program is achieving its purpose efficiently and effectively and identifying the most optimal strategies and policies given available funding. Consequently, the WMDs have spent approximately $90 million of state and district funds since 1987, yet it is not possible to determine the cost-effectiveness of these expenditures.
  • If the SWIM Program continues in some form, the DEP and the WMDs must take steps to provide some means of measuring Program results and tying outcomes to strategies and expenditures. Emphasis should be placed on developing generalizable and simpler measures that indicate changes in the health of the overall water body.
  • An infusion of signfiicant additional resources is needed if the Program is to ever meet its original intent. Therefore, if funds are not available, then the Legislature should eliminate the Program. If limited state funding is available, we recommend that the Program scope be reduced to better match Program requirements to funding levels. However, if the Legislature wants to make a long-term commitment to surface waters of state and regional significance, then we recommend that a dedicated funding source be adopted to allow WMDs to make better decisions regarding surface water improvement projects. Program scope and activities should be adjusted depending on the level of funding achieved through the dedicated funding source.

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