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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

Step 3 Determining Resources and Constraints

Purpose / Why / How / Tools / Look Forward / Go On

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Based on the needs and objectives identified, determine what will be affected and what you have to work with.

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navigate in the page--Purpose

To identify:

  • Physical and informational resources*definition that are likely to be needed
  • Resources that are likely to be affected (either directly or indirectly)
  • Constraints*definition that may affect the process and solutions

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navigate in the page--Why?

Assessing affected resources provides a baseline condition*definition to project into the future and develop the no action alternative The merit of all Federal actions is determined by comparing alternatives with a no action alternative--or how the future would be without any Federal action.

Without an accurate assessment of resources and constraints, developing solutions is pure speculation--you don't know if the solution is even possible.

A comprehensive resource assessment will help establish historic, current, and projected resource trends.

resources are connected

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navigate in the page--How?

Methods will vary from a few seconds thought to an in-depth analysis, depending on the level of detail.

Determine What 's Out There

There are two kinds of resources:

Resources to solve the problem
(e.g., data, staff, and expertise).
Resources which may be affected
(e.g., water, environmental, power)

People are your most important resources.

List resources and constraints that need to be investigated. Examples may help you get started:

Look at what affects and is affected by the problem and potential solutions. Look well beyond physical and biological resources to data, participants, and decisionmakers.

Figure out what constraints drive the process. Legal influences, regulations, authority, the goals and missions of all participants, and the overall purpose of the action will shape the focus of the process. Staff and funding will dictate how much can be done. Possible competition for resources and your action's priority will determine how many resources can be used.


Water quality deterioriting in aquifer
Improve water quality to meet x standards
Funding, partnerships, existing well system, etc.
Recharge laws, farming activity, hydrologic recharge rates, availability of water, availability of well data, etc.

Examine Existing Information

click for comics(The real reason no one wants to look at diverse needs)

Get existing information to save time and money. To get a good perspective and context for that data, ask:

  • Who is the source?
  • What is their agenda ?
  • How does that influence the information?
  • Are the research methods sufficient to provide the level of accuracy you need to make a decision?

Define Data Needs

What data are needed to reach a decision ? Look beyond technical data to consider the political and social background of the problem: e.g., the urgency of problem, the publics' levels of awareness, preferences, and participation.

Also, look at the action in the context of time: what projections do you need to make? What happened in the past? For example, if water quality is a known concern, you may need to project the influence of future actions on water quality--especially in the areas of salinity, heavy metals, and selenium.

Establish Methods

Establish level of detail , analyses , and data collection methods necessary to inventory or forecast changes in resources required to solve problems, resolve issues, meet future needs, and achieve your identified objectives. Get decisionmakers' buy-in. Determine who will sign off on the analysis, how you will resolve conflicts.

Meet periodically to review the process. What changes have occurred? How are they integrated into the analysis? Ensure that everyone is on the same page--that data analysis is consistent across disciplines. Readjust studies to ensure that the level of detail is still appropriate. List what the analyses need to pay attention to. (Hint: The more times something comes up, the greater its significance.)

Consider Interrelationships

Interrelationships paint the picture of the area you'll need to cover:

(What is the ecosystem? How do resources (biota, water, land, people) interact?)
(Who is concerned about what? How do these concerns interact?)
(Where is the critical habitat? Where is the developed land? How will human and animal populations change over time?)

Once you have figured out what interacts with what, narrow that interaction by considering the timing (e.g., what is the relationship between spring flows and spawning?). This will show windows of opportunity as well as conflict. To figure out where problems may occur, project patterns of development. Population distributions, habitat needs, and physical interactions tend to follow predictable features (e.g., people tend to settle along rivers, precipitation tends to follow cycles).

Consider the Legal Framework

At times, you may need to propose solutions that may conflict with the existing legal infrastructure. However, it is a lot easier and more effective to work within the framework provided by legal and organizational requirements. Seek advice from involved communities and organizations. These constraints may include:

  • Court judgments
  • Water and land use rights
  • Federal, State, local, tribal laws
  • Organizational regulations, charters, and guidance
  • International laws and agreements


Document what you have accomplished and found so far in the process, either through a fact sheet, signed agreement, substantial update to the action plan , NEPA compliance document, policy document, or other agreed-upon format. This document should include:

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navigate in the page--Tools

Tools to determine resources and constraints include existing data, professional judgment, literature searches, and secondary sources.

When the level of detail requires more indepth data, inventories might include field mapping, sampling, lab analysis, drilling, measuring, and statistical modeling. Tailor tools to match the complexity and level of detail needed. (If you need a broad overview, don't spend a lot of time on detailed maps.)


tools(See the Toolbox for more tools)

The following tools are good ways to compare various factors and relationships. They can help participants understand spatial and temporal relationships and identify patterns.

Geographic information systems allow you to overlay various information tied to geographical locations. Thus, you can compare population characteristics with habitats or other kinds of communities throughout the watershed. When you look at overlays, you can readily identify potential problems.
Historical data.
Trends may appear through historical data such as population censuses and flow histories.
Related models may use this historic data to project future trends.
Specialized maps and reports.
Maps from the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), universities and other groups will show you locations of physical resources (e.g., surface and groundwater) and distributions of population, habitat, species, etc.
Process maps and flow charts.
Charting physical, social, biological, and other pertinent processes will help determine when events happen so you can see temporal relationships.
Influence diagrams.
Drawing these in a small meeting will help brainstorm areas to examine. To be sure you cover all bases, develop one overall diagram and one for each resource.
Issue maps.
Overlaying issues (e.g., endangered species, water demands) over a map of the area can provide an overall view of relationships between issues.

Constraints Table

A constraints table lists legal and institutional constraints that may apply.

To help participants translate the legalese into reality, create a three column table showing authority, relevant language, and actions required or prohibited. You may need to add more columns to structure these tables to reflect your process.

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navigate in the page--Look Forward

Resources and constraints will change throughout the process. Using decision analysis, keep track of what you have to work with.

Go/No Go*definition

Depending on your process, you may need a report to justify approaching Congress for study authority and funding . The decision point here is whether to hand the report over to a partner for their use or for Reclamation to pursue it (e.g., you might be at the point of seeking feasibility funding from Congress.)

After completing the assessment of resources, the team must be able to document its work and answer:

  • Is there a Reclamation role ?
  • Have we identified the resources needed to meet our objectives?
  • Do we have enough resources to meet our objectives?
  • Have we identified a solvable problem?
  • Have we identified activities and trends that affect resources?

If any answer is "no, " regroup and re-examine your efforts. Either something was missed and you need a different approach, or there is no Reclamation role and the study should be concluded .

The rationales for continuing now provide a picture of where you are going and what it will take to get there. Examine this picture to ensure it is consistent with the overall context of the action. Ask yourself and participants:

  • Do we need to solve the problem?
  • Can we solve the problem?

Show this overall picture and your recommendations to decisionmakers and get a documented, clear decision on whether to proceed on this course, remap the course, or close the effort.

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navigate in the page--Go On

Executive Summary Take this car on a fast tour and Process spiralling forward Tours:

Objectives <- --->Options

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PreviousStep 2, Identifying Objectives

NextStep 4, Developing Options.

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