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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


go through page Thresholds / Testing / Go On

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Don't waste resources on anything that does not relate directly to the decision and the solution. First decide if something is relevant, and then if it is significant.

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navigate in the page--Thresholds of Significance

Significance and priority go hand in hand.

Determining significance is not a yes/no decision: shades of grey and every other color infuse the question. Really answer: Does it cross the threshold where we need to deal with it ? These thresholds will vary. They depend on:

How well does it fit our role as a Federal agency to address this? Would we be irresponsible if we walked away?
Is the problem worth solving? How well does it meet the objectives and purpose
How much are people and groups willing to risk and invest to solve this problem? Are there enough resources and partners to work with?
Other Projects
What else is going on out there that we can link to?

You will need to discuss these thresholds with other groups and determine them for your process. Remember that this is not a hard, fine cutoff point. Carefully examine all perspectives of problems, issues, and analysis*definition needs that hover on the borders.

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navigate in the page--Testing for significance

Attack only relevant*definition and significant*definition dragons. Let the rest have their morning tea in peace.

Empty sentences that have sound and gravity but the significance of nothing pertinant (Milton).

First figure out what you are dealing with by looking at:

  • Potential impacts (Who will be affected and why?)
  • Potential complications and further problems (What would happen if we did nothing ?)
  • Relationship to other problems (one abandoned mine may not be a problem, but twenty can pose a significant threat to the water quality).

Then test for significance by asking:

  • Problem
    • Does the problem pose a present or future risk to someone's quality of life?

    If yes, the problem is significant and should be addressed. If not, bow out of the process.

  • Issue
    • Does the issue affect the decision?
    • Will participants support the solution if it does not address that issue?

    If yes, the issue is significant and should be addressed. If not, explain why it doesn't affect the decision, document it, and drop it as soon as possible. Note that you may need to keep some issues to show that there is no concern.

  • Frequency
    • Does the issue happen often?
    • Will the solution work if this is not addressed?

MATS analyses have found that between 18 and 25 factors influencing the decision are usually identified. However, when relevance, significance, and overlap are eliminated, decisions usually rest on five or fewer major factors. Note that "significant" has a slightly different connotation when applied to impacts under a NEPA compliance process. It may have different definitions in other processes as well. For example, California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)*definition requires an analysis for population projections under every document.

"Unless you can argue convincingly that failure to solve the problem will reduce someone's quality of life significantly below what it is or below what it could be , or below what it ought to be --you'll have great difficulty convincing the American public that the problem in question is a serious one." Hans Bleiker, Citizen Participation Handbook*definition

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navigate in the page--Go On

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