Breaking Down Barriers to Transparent Decisions: A Role for Structured Decision-Making in the Management of Impounded Rivers

Breaking Down Barriers to Transparent Decisions: A Role for Structured Decision-Making in the Management of Impounded Rivers

Lisa K. Peterson , Michael L. Jones, & John M. Dettmers

Natural resource management is a field where nearly every significant decision is complex. Decisions about whether to build, repair, or remove dams are universally multifaceted and frequently politically charged. In North America there has been a push to remove dams to restore native fish species while in other parts of the world dams are being constructed to meet the growing demand for electricity; globally, dams have become a focus of conflict for government agencies, as well as for the public. Wise decisions about barriers must take into account a variety of potentially conflicting objectives, including power generation, flood control, maintenance of river-system connectivity, and limiting the spread of invasive species, contaminants, or disease. Decisions about dams affect ecological, social, and economic values at local, regional, and even basin-wide scales that can span multiple states or countries. For these reasons, it is critical to look at the trade-offs and uncertainties among competing objectives in a transparent and organized way, and this is where structured decision-making can be most useful. As part of a fellowship project for the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, we designed a Structured Decision Making (SDM) framework that both utilizes the basic steps of a decision-making process – identifying context, objectives, and performance measures; alternatives; and consequences and uncertainties – and illustrates their application to real world situations. This framework provides managers with a road map to better barrier related decision-making.

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