Tools for Managing of Disputes over Science in the Bureau of Reclamation
Project ID: 6641
Principal Investigator: Douglas Clark
Research Topic: Water Resource Data Analysis
Funded Fiscal Years: 2013
Keywords: collaborative competency, dispute over science, water allocation decision, water conflict management
This research will conduct in-depth analyses of selected disputes over science to understand what tools were used to manage them during the history of the dispute. There will be a special focus on adaptive management for managing disputes over science. The research follows on three previous water conflict management research efforts: the Western Water Institutional Solutions effort (a collaboration with Oregon State University), a study of the use of adaptive management forums for water conflict management, and an electronic survey of Reclamation personnel regarding the etiology and resolution of disputes over science. Each of these efforts have contributed to our understanding of how to convert conflict into collaboration. We learned from the first study that many water conflicts within Reclamation are either wholly or partially disputes over science. We learned from the second that adaptive management workshops can be effective as forums in managing such disputes. And we learned from the third effort that disputes over science have extremely rich and varied characters. The findings of each effort either have been or will soon be incorporated into water conflict management training modules developed to help Reclamation engineers, scientists, and managers to integrate collaborative competency into their overall set of professional skills. The current research will allow us to conduct intensive investigations of specific disputes over science by talking directly with the Reclamation personnel who managed them. From these managers we will learn what underlay the disputes, what tools were used to manage them, what actions were taken that were productive and what were not, how success was measured, how impasses were managed, and what effective actions were taken along the way to maintain core agency operations.
Need and Benefit
In focus group studies conducted in the course of the Western Water Institutional solutions research effort, we asked what percent of their time Reclamation managers spent on average each day managing water conflict. The answer was invariably 50% to 100%. Another commonality amongst area offices was a complaint (especially amongst water managers) that they frequently had to make water allocation decisions in an environment characterized by scientific uncertainty. For instance, scientists differed as to the amount of water a specific endangered species required to survive. Or scientists could not agree as to the extent to which groundwater withdrawals contributed to surface water depletion. Or they could not agree as to what constituted a wetland. In the electronic survey on disputes over science conducted in 2011 we learned that disputes over science were pervasive in Reclamation. For instance the EPA made an assertion that the Leadville Mine Tunnel was subject to collapse. Reclamation conducted a study of the tunnel that was subsequently peer-reviewed by the Colorado School of Mines showing that the EPA's assertion was not correct. (Peer-review has been shown to be one way to manage conflicts over science). It is time to do more intensive analyses and to compile the lessons learned by our scientists, engineers, and managers into a reference guide.
Bureau of Reclamation Review
The following documents were reviewed by experts in fields relating to this project's study and findings. The results were determined to be achieved using valid means.
Implementation of the Endangered Species Act on the Platte River Basin: Summary of an Interview with Dr. Curtis Brown, Platte River Study Manager (final, PDF,
By Douglas Clark and Dennis Kubly
Report completed on November 12, 2013
This information was last updated on March 26, 2015
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