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Scoping Tools for Water Conflict Management

Project ID: 1380
Principal Investigator: Douglas Clark
Research Topic: Water Resource Data Analysis
Funded Fiscal Years: 2014
Keywords: None

Research Question

Negative externalities such as quagga mussels,changing rural and urban demographics, water demand exceeding supply, and climate variability will likely aggravate the already contentious Western Water landscape. Tools are required to diagnose the true nature of existing or brewing water conflicts. We propose to inventory and evaluate existing diagnostic methods and models (eg. the circle of conflict model, the boundary model, the interests/rights/power model, the dynamics of trust model, the dimensions model, the social styles model, structured decision-making,etc.)for their potential application in defining evolving conflicts. If no current tool or tools exist to diagnose the underlying dynamics of Reclamation water disputes, we propose to use these methods as springboards to develop one or more diagnostic methods of our own. These will make use of data gathered from Reclamation water managers, subject matter experts, stakeholders, and others to understand the underlying dynamics of disputes. Having this information will help conflict managers to classify disputes into various dispute types, based upon salient characteristics in a variety of domains: scientific, legal, institutional, interpersonal, power, etc. One such diagnostic tool is the USGS Legal Institutional Analysis Model (see: http://www.fort.usgs.gov/Products/Publications/Pub_abstract.asp?PubID=21388). Such tools could provide improved means of achieving more proactive, efficient, and effective dispute management and resolution results. A multidimensional classification tool will undoubtedly be useful to help identify which dispute resolution tools have the highest likelihood of achieving successful outcomes for Reclamation managers: eg. adaptive management, adaptive governance, joint fact-finding, etc.

Need and Benefit

Conflict managers have repeatedly told us that they often find themselves deep into conflicts before they are able to discern what the real issues are and how the associated politics are related to these issue-sets. Conflicts can happen because each side has a different perception as to the true nature of the problem at hand or because each side is operating with a different set of data, which may or may not be complete or accurate. Conflicts happen because the various sides have destructive stereotypes of their opponents. Conflicts occur because various sides have distorted views of the priorities or agendas of their opponents. They happen because opponents have a destructive history with one another. They occur when one or more stakeholders believes that others lack jurisdiction, legitimacy, or legal standing in a dispute. Disputes occur when various personality types interact. For instance a quietly objective person who values data analysis may come into conflict with an aggressive person who demands instant results. Conflicts can occur when one side or another feels that it lacks power or recourse. These and similar facts must be sorted out early on.

Here are some examples. Conflicts over science are sometimes really issues about politics or the reverse. A manager in Albuquerque reported that he had an incident where one scientist who considered his/her work to be unassailable became embroiled in a bitter conflict with others who viewed it as flawed. This conflict was really interpersonal in nature, not scientific. A university instructor has reported that how water is valued can result in conflict. For instance whereas a farmer, rancher, or manufacturer may view water as an essential input for their business, a Native American may view it as sacred. Religious views amongst the general public can also come into play. One Reclamation conflict manager noted that a person attending a public meeting said there could not be a 10,000 year flood scenario for a particular basin because the earth was only 5000 years old. Perceptions about government and government employees can also shape conflicts. A recent publication on the Platte River dispute resolution reported that certain constituencies were convinced that the Federal government was simply trying to wrest control of the river's waters from the states. These dynamics must be scoped out in advance of selecting a conflict resolution process.

Research Products

Report of findings and fully developed proposal for FY2015.

This information was last updated on September 20, 2014
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