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This information is intended to convey the underlying concepts for Reclamation's decision processes. It is not mandatory.
See the Reclamation Manual for official Reclamation-wide requirements.

Reclamation's Decision Process Guide


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navigate in the page--What It Is

Problems arise from a series of interconnected events, actions, and needs in the area. The context thus reaches far beyond the local community. Don't forget the human environment*definition !

The study boundaries should be wide enough to encompass the problemshed and yet narrow enough to effectively solve the problem.

Once you understand the context the problem is operating in, you can define and attack the problem. A variety of areas of needs and influences determine the problemshed*definition: geographical, social, economic, cultural, biological, health care, hydrologic, etc.


  • What is the problem?
  • How does it show up?
  • What is involved?
  • Who does it impact?
  • How does it impact them?
  • What do these impacts mean?

Causes and problems can be widely scattered. For example, if salinity is causing the problem in a lower basin, the sources of salinity may be in an upper basin. Thus, the entire river basin becomes an area of influence or problemshed even though the upper basin isn't going to benefit directly from the solution. To determine a water quality issue's problemshed, for example, you might ask:

  • What is the watershed basin (e.g., geographic, physical boundaries)?
  • How and where does the problem manifest itself (e.g., drinking water,wetlands, fish)
  • Who and what uses the water (e.g., farmers, trees, fish)?
  • What do they use the water for (e.g., agricultural, ecosystem, etc.)?
  • Where is the source of pollution (e.g. pesticides, sewage, mine drainage, etc)?

Thus, to look at the water quality issue, you have to interact with water supplies to users, pollution sources, economic parameters, downstream water flows, upstream land use and impacts, etc. Measuring indicators can help analyze a broad range of causes and effects.

Consider national and local interests, direct and indirect impacts, and causes and effects when determining if your study boundaries extend far enough to solve the problem.

problemshed map

The action plan forms a path through the problemshed by mapping out what will be done where.

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navigate in the page--Go On

Dragon Tour wide-eyed dragon on the loose Identify Problems <-------> Partners

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GeneralHip Pocket Concepts


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Please contact Deena Larsen 303-445-2584 with questions or comments on this material.