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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 6 Developing Alternatives

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

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Having eliminated options with fatal flaws , we now recombine our list of viable options to formulate desirable alternatives*definition.

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navigate in the page--Purpose

  • To combine options into implementable, comprehensive alternatives*definition that will meet the identified needs
  • To develop a full range *definition of alternatives, including no action.
  • To demonstrate that the process considered a reasonable range of alternatives

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navigate in the page--Why?

Steps 1 through 5 have laid a strong basis for developing alternatives. Incremental combinations, summations, or subtractions of options allow us to create alternatives that respond to many different objectives and needs. These alternatives are not unsupported conjecture--they are based on sound supportable data and represent real possibilities. These could not only meet local and regional needs and objectives but also achieve the primary purposes for Reclamation's involvement.

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navigate in the page--How?

How far to go in considering alternatives will be determined by the context of the process. For a full comparison and evaluation , develop a no action alternative. At times, it may be necessary to analyze extreme alternatives which you would never implement (e.g., a single purpose alternative to examine one aspect of the program or an action that is politically or legally expedient to analyze).

Most likely, there will be pressure to limit the process of developing alternatives to those which are most "reasonable" or those which only satisfy the objectives of some special or local interest group. Differing views and considerable subjectivity on what constitutes the notion of reasonableness come into play here. While there may be some strong sentiments arising from the general public, the most likely source of pressure to limit alternatives will be from other government entities, organized special interest groups, and political interest groups. Work closely with these pressure groups to show this is a fair way of solving the problem. This may persuade them not to actively oppose your process.

The political importance of such demands cannot be overlooked--and may well constitute some of evaluation criteria to be applied later. But limiting alternatives at this time may exclude valid and implementable alternatives which could contribute important aspects to the future process of evaluation , tradeoff, and compromise leading to selecting an alternative. Affected publics need time for education, to weigh choices, view possible consequences, and participate in responsible judgment. Take this opportunity to demonstrate that you are listening and considering all views. This will help elicit future public support and help avoid potentially serious conflict .

Combine Options Into Alternatives

Keep the purpose and need clearly in view as you develop alternatives.

Combine the options remaining from the screening process. Add or subtract any options or ideas to form a range of alternatives that meet the broad range of identified needs and objectives. (Remember to put the new options through the same screening process as the original options!) Carefully name the alternatives so that participants can clearly talk about them. In general, participants will associate with more descriptive names related to what the alternative does rather than some vague number or letter. For example, "Desalting and Wetlands" is easier to understand than "Alternative 1-A."

The process of developing alternatives is similar for both simple and complex projects. View options as a cafeteria line where you pick from your developed list and combine them to form alternatives. Numerous combinations are possible. Compare this list with the alternatives to make sure they are complete--all objectives have been addressed and identified needs have been met.

Examine Interactions

Remember: Administrative decisions may also affect the environment.

Examining the interaction of specific options (now components of alternatives), can sometimes find combinations that enhance the overall effectiveness. This can also reveal potential problems or adverse impacts which must either be avoided or mitigated. An influence diagram can help examine interactions.

Consider Benefits

Benefits are a summary of public values and national interests. Considering these benefits as you assemble alternatives provides specific insights about:

  • What concerns have the greatest value
  • How to assemble solutions to create high value alternatives

Consider Costs and Constraints

Considering resources and constraints allows illuminates important effects that should be considered during future evaluation to develop equitable alternatives.

No alternative is painless--solving problems for the long run requires upfront costs and sacrifices. Ask who will i mplement the solution and how it will be paid for. Talk with potential implementors to get a rough idea of costs. (Not all costs are measured in dollars!) Consider partnerships, reciprocal agreements, and other innovative, diverse sources of funding.

Consider the Environment Both the Department of the Interior and Reclamation are committed to the policy of responsible environmental planning. Therefore, as you assemble alternatives, consider:

  • Possible benefits
  • Possible adverse impacts
  • Potential mitigation requirements
  • Habitat enhancement
  • Ecosystem*definition sustainability*definition

Good groundwork here will help establish the evaluation criteria to be used later in the process and in NEPA/CEQ compliance. Remember, future resource conditions under the no action alternative (not current conditions) are the basis for determining project-related effects. Incorrect comparisons can affect the level of mitigation and enhancement. Careful attention to the details of these conditions now will save considerable time and effort during evaluation, selection, and implementation.

Develop the No Action Alternative

By examining the no action alternative, participants can determine how serious the problem really is--and decide whether or not to make the sacrifices necessary to deal with it.

The no action alternative is described further in CEQ regulations*definition and the future without condition is described in the Principles and Guidelines*definition.

Don't forget to develop the concept of a no action alternative, or future without*definition condition. The no action alternative describes the most likely future condition that could be expected if you don't take action. It serves as a yardstick to compare other alternatives to determine the magnitude of benefits and adverse effects. Although the no action alternative may contain a fatal flaw (e.g., violates a law, does not meet the need) it is still developed as a comparison. The no action alternative includes any actions which are certain as well as changes that would occur regardless of any proposed alternative.

Clearly describing the future without project condition provides the frame of reference necessary to evaluate changes caused by the alternatives. A clear definition of the future without condition allows you to form positive response alternatives.

The no action alternative can be described as a condition where no alternative is selected for implementation. The without-project condition is the most likely condition expected to exist in the future in the absence of any developed alternative, including known changes in law or public policy. The without-project condition includes water projects or other actions that are under construction or authorized and likely to be constructed during the forecast period (this includes actions by all entities). Usually, participants estimate the no action alternative by projecting current conditions, resource trends, and probable actions by others through a period of time commensurate with the anticipated lifespan of the action alternatives.

To figure out the most likely future without cndition on any project, you need to examine different sets of scenarios (e.g., high and low water years, ranges of funding or staff). Viewing a range of possible conditions rather than a single set of assumptions will allow you to address the future far more objectively.

Document Alternatives

Once you have defined alternatives, describe them in a document (factsheet, newsletter, action plan update, etc.). Be sure to add a brief section on which options dropped out and why. For an EIS*definition or EA this document can become Chapter 2: Alternatives.

Disseminate this document to all participants for comment and review to avoid potential gaps and fatal flaws. Keep it on hand to share with new players so they can understand your process. A summary table of alternatives showing basic components can help decisionmakers and other participants get an overview of the range of alternatives.

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navigate in the page--Tools

tools(See the Toolbox for more tools)

Options can be combined in many ways to form alternatives, so use tools that can show groups and relationships among options. Useful tools include:

  • Affinity grouping. Write each option on a separate yellow sticky and put them together into groups to form alternatives. You'll have to write some options on more than one sticky so they can be used in more than one alternative.
  • Matrix tables. Write objectives across the top and options along the sides. For each option, check what objectives it meets. This will make it easier to combine options to meet all
  • Force field analysis. Determine which forces will work for and against the options. Develop components to take advantage of strengths and counter weaknesses.

People With Expertise

Your team and participants should represent a variety of disciplines, or you should at least have access to and consult with those disciplines essential to your study. In some cases, it may be appropriate to involve specialists from other agencies, contractors, or special interest groups. Specialists can interact to identify interrelationships among objectives

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navigate in the page--Look Forward

Re-Examine Your Work

The Public Involvement Charge : Under NEPA/CEQ , the Department of the Interior Manual, and other regulatory and authorizing legislation, Reclamation is charged with showing how public input was used to develop alternatives. Partner and coordinate with other agencies as a logical way of doing business and avoiding problems.

Having developed all potential alternatives, you should be able to:

  • Identify any continued need for a Reclamation role
  • Show how the range responds to the objectives, issues, concerns, and needs previously identified
  • Examine a range of alternatives (including a no action alternative) that has been developed

Report how public involvement was used and in what ways it contributed to developing your alternatives.

Refine Alternatives

As you go through the decision process, these alternatives will become more and more defined. By the selection phase, these alternatives should have all the nitty-gritty details necessary to implement them. Keep asking:

  • Who would do what with what money?
  • How would the components work?
  • How would the components interact?
  • In what order would work need to be done? What preliminary steps and permits would be needed?

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navigate in the page--Go On

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

Screening Criteria <----> Evaluation

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PreviousStep 5, Establish and Apply Screening Criteria

NextStep 7, Evaluate Alternatives

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