The preceding chapters focus on the distinctive characteristics of the regional and institutional settings that make long-term management decisions for the Spirit Lake and Toutle River system challenging and then describe a framework for decision collaborative and analytically informed decision making that could be applied in the region. Chapter discussions describe hazards within the region and their potential effects on engineered works, downstream communities, and regional ecologies. The committee describes good management and decision-making practices and synthesizes key requirements for implementing those practices in boldface statements, each labeled “recommendation.” Box 9.1 lists those recommendations. As required by the statement of task (see Box 1.1), the committee also identifies management alternatives and describes gaps in existing data. This final chapter focuses on how the committee’s recommendations might be implemented in a way that fully addresses current and future challenges.
The recommendations in Box 9.1 highlight the need to account for system-wide impacts of both short- and long-term management decisions rather than focus on just one element of management (e.g., Spirit Lake water levels) or a particular engineered work (e.g., the drainage tunnel or the sediment retention structure [SRS]). The report recommends that agencies and other interested and affected parties develop a shared understanding of the broader system, the alternatives for managing the system, and the ways in which those alternatives can be expected to affect the system. Additionally, the report suggests broadening and deepening the
processes through which all interested and affected parties can participate in decisions regarding future management options—processes that must take into account engineering constraints and issues, stakeholders’ competing interests, and public concerns. Robust monitoring systems and the sharing of data among parties with a stake in the management of the system are recommended so that management decisions are informed by a common understanding of the factors that affect the system. Whereas many may view these recommendations as “common sense,” they do not
represent how elements of the Spirit Lake and Toutle River system have been managed in practice.
A certain sense of urgency regarding the Spirit Lake outflow tunnel exists given the present need for further repairs. The committee recognizes that some management decisions, such as those related to the tunnel, may need to be made before all the recommendations in this report can be fully implemented. Whereas the decision framework provided in this report is intended to be applied to future decisions for the entire system, early
decisions can still be consistent with the general principles underlying the framework. Specifically, consideration can be given to how various management alternatives may affect present and future management of Spirit Lake as well as other parts of the system. As such, a two-phase process for implementing the recommendations can be envisioned. The initial phase involves a focus on the immediate challenges associated with Spirit Lake. This focus would include identifying and engaging interested and affected parties to inform and be informed by the analytic and decision-making processes suggested in Chapters 6-8. The decision-making group put together for this first phase of decision making might be a nascent form of the decision participant group that later fully realizes the implementation of the decision framework. The second phase would be focused on system-wide decision making and fully take into account upstream and downstream conditions, potential impacts, and affected parties.
The volcanic, seismic, and meteorological setting of the Spirit Lake and Toutle River system has created a region subject to steady and rapid physical change punctuated by periodic cataclysmic events such as the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. That eruption created a new physiographic normal for the people and wildlife in the region. Such cataclysmic events are recurring phenomena for the region, even if unknown to the region’s European-American settlers before 1980. The huge volumes of materials deposited as a result of the eruption dammed Spirit Lake with the debris blockage and literally reshaped the Toutle River and downstream river valleys. Residents today grapple with the risk of a catastrophic breakout of the debris blockage and of more regular flooding caused by increased sediments in the system. These risks are consequential—potentially affecting life and safety—and cannot be truly “fixed.” The probability of a catastrophic event related to one of these hazards in the future is non-negligible.
Management of the region since the 1980 eruption was first guided by emergency response and then by disaster mitigation. Whereas the dangers posed by natural hazards still exist, other consequences—such as those related
to ecological conditions, economic interests, or recreational opportunities—also concern the community. If there is a desire to be responsive to the priorities of the region’s interested and affected parties, than those other priorities cannot be ignored. Recognizing the various risks and their relationships to community priorities may be a first step in understanding the Cowlitz Indian Tribe’s concept of “living with the volcano” (see Box 3.7). Quantifying risks, assigning metrics to values, and developing a common understanding of all this information could help those in the region develop a mind-set that allows them to learn how to live with the volcano, the river, local and regional seismicity, and other hazards. Looking forward, it will need to be determined whether engineered interventions applied to date offer enough protection to justify the benefits and consequences obtained.
Elected officials have delegated the authority, mechanisms, and resources to manage the individual elements of the Spirit Lake and Toutle River system to different agencies. Few of those authorities, mechanisms, and resources have been granted in a manner that allows coordinated management among them, even when several elements are managed by the same agency. Management is often at cross-purposes with the needs and priorities of at least some interested and affected parties. The analytical-deliberative decision process described in previous chapters provides guidance on how beneficial and broadly acceptable management actions might be identified and agreed to.
Decision participants, with the help of their neutral decision support team (Chapter 6), can use the decision process to identify, collect, and analyze the data needed to quantify risks, identify system problems, identify multiple objectives of interested and affected parties, as well as find sets of actions that could address the many elements of the system. The consequences of those sets of actions can be analyzed. With that information, the necessary trade-offs made by those with different resources and priorities can be agreed upon and a set of alternatives chosen. The alternative actions may be in the form of new infrastructure or changes to existing infrastructure; they may be operational (e.g., lowering lake levels or dredging); and they may be nonstructural (e.g., buyouts and zoning requirements). Given that infrastructure has been built that has itself wrought substantial changes
in the environment, a systems approach will likely involve a combination of all these types of actions. Many decisions applying the framework can be carried out through existing authorities and resources. All the same, other decisions will likely require action by elected officials. In the latter case, convincing evidence will have been collected as a result of the framework and can be presented to elected officials to support requests for authorities or resources. Because the decision process is largely evidentiary and based on analyses of data, it provides a comprehensive body of evidence to support decisions made at legislative levels.
There is no returning the Spirit Lake and Toutle River system to a “natural” condition as long as people choose to live in the region and use the region’s resources. Given the choice to live there, decisions were made to manage sediments and the debris blockage, inevitably reducing the “naturalness” of the system. Rising recognition of the multiple objectives and additional priorities beyond safety means that management decisions become increasingly complex. Decisions about different elements in the system can no longer be made in a geographic and policy vacuum: the impacts to the whole system of management activities in any one part of the system must be understood. Moreover, those impacts must be understood over a variety of timescales of interest.
It could be argued that the choice of constructing the Spirit Lake tunnel and the SRS merely delayed the inevitable transfer of sediment from the headwaters of the Toutle River at Spirit Lake through the Toutle River to the Cowlitz and Columbia Rivers and that perhaps a different mind-set than has heretofore been applied is required to manage sediments. Long-term management solutions might seek to facilitate an orderly transfer of sediment through the entire system in ways that also promote desirable long-term ecologic conditions, economic goals, and public safety. Meeting the long-term goals may require considering those issues needing short-term solutions as well as recognizing that different interested and affected parties may have different planning time horizons in mind. Well-trained,
skilled facilitators might help decision participants work through these differences. Trade-offs will always be necessary, but fewer benefits will be realized if changes are made absent a common understanding among interested and affected parties about how the system operates at many geographic and temporal scales. Developing strategy tables (e.g., Table 7.2) are useful for comparing multiple combinations of actions and can be modified to represent activities over space and time.
A first step in the recommended decision-making process described in Chapters 6-8 is to identify the lead party responsible for initiating a formal decision process (see Chapter 6). For purposes of this discussion, the committee assumes that the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) will lead the earliest stages of the process given the agency’s authority over Spirit Lake, the tunnel, and the surrounding area. The USFS will need to liaise with relevant agency and government bodies to explain the decision process and generate enthusiasm for it. This may mean one-on-one work with these other organizations to walk through the proposed decision process and could include a demonstration of how a PrOACT-like (Problem, Objectives, Alternatives, Consequences, Trade-offs) process operates, how it fits with overlapping regulatory responsibilities, and how it leads to better decision making for the system. The participation of a decision analysis facilitator in these early meetings would be beneficial. Whereas the USFS will likely be the agency to initiate the process, as decision making evolves and matures, the role of lead for any specific decision should be decided collaboratively.
For a decision process to be perceived as legitimate by interested and affected parties, the lead must be accepted as an “honest broker” whose interest is in seeing a fair, even-handed process implemented in a technically competent manner. The lead should not be seen as dominating the process. This implies, among other things, that the lead has knowledge and experience in the practical application of the decision analysis concepts needed to coordinate the implementation of the decision framework in an objective, transparent, and disinterested fashion. These skills may be
present in the lead agency, or an outside agent may be identified to serve as an independent coordinator as part of the neutral decision support team (also described in Chapter 6). Important but perhaps not obvious areas of expertise that need to be included as part of the neutral support team are provided in Box 9.2.
As described in Box 6.2, the USFS, with the help of the neutral support team, will assume initial responsibility for identifying and convening the group that represents both agency and nonagency interests and concerns for the entire system and over time. This is the group of up to approxi-
mately 25 decision participants discussed in Chapter 6. This group may be established to make the initial decisions regarding control of lake levels, but it may also be similar to the group that will make future decisions for the system as a whole. With input from other interested and affected parties, the lead will cast a wide net in seeking parties to participate in this earliest implementation of the decision framework. Box 6.2 provides guidance about determining who might be involved in what ways.
With input from the newly convened group and its neutral support team consisting of those with appropriate technical, facilitation, stakeholder engagement, and decision analysis skills, the lead should decide on the best means for applying the decision framework to the problem at hand (e.g., Spirit Lake), with consideration given to the priorities of all interested and affected parties (see Box 7.1); to hazards inherent in the system (see Chapter 4); and to an understanding of the system-wide consequences and operational risks of the various management alternatives considered (see Chapter 5). For these early considerations, the lead will need to compare the relative urgency of the problem to the amount of time needed to understand potential solutions in deciding how best to apply the decision framework. It may be most informative, for example, to conduct workshops designed to elicit input from interested and affected parties.
While this report has highlighted a number of information gaps, it is not envisaged that a large data collection effort is needed in advance of initiating the decision process. The experience of generating and comparing alternatives and their consequences, highlighting value trade-offs, and interacting with interested and affected parties can be expected to refine and augment data needs. On the other hand, however, some data needs are fundamental to any planning process (e.g., monitoring data). These collection efforts should be started early enough so that the results are available when needed.
Planning management actions using any planning protocol has a cost; therefore, early in the process some idea of planning cost will need to be
considered. Costs of technical analyses represent one type of estimating problem, while costs of managing a participatory process are another. Calculating cost if the entire effort can be performed “in-house” is different from calculating cost when contractors are used for some or all activities. Combined with the lack of advance knowledge of the exact structure of the planning effort and its scope, these factors argue against an attempt to develop a budget based on a detailed cost estimate of the planning process.
Alternatively, one could investigate the cost of comparable planning activities: ideally, those that have used PrOACT-like processes, or at least analytical-deliberative approaches. Still, it is difficult to find directly comparable applications. The Spirit Lake and Toutle River system is similar to the applications of PrOACT-like processes described in Chapter 6 in that there are multiple agencies with overlapping jurisdictions; other interested and affected parties with lesser decision-making influence; large, but perhaps not completely defined, geographic boundaries for the problem; and multiple ways of defining the scope of the problem needing to be addressed. But the Spirit Lake and Toutle River system is notable for the number and extreme magnitude of the natural hazards as well as for the potential diversity of capital works as solutions to the decision problem. These are important distinctions even without considering which efforts have been performed in-house or with contractors.
An approach that might be taken to develop budget estimates for a Spirit Lake and Toutle River application is to assume programming on a level-of-effort basis—that is, budget estimates will be made for the activities expected for the first year to get the initial level of effort. That budgeted effort may then be adjusted from year to year as the work progresses.
This report has noted that long-term management of the regional system encompasses a complex set of interrelated issues over time, for which there may be no single “best” solution and about which no single entity has the authority to make decisions. The USFS and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have jurisdiction over parts of the system, while tribal, state,
and local entities have their own authorities, and the private sector and public at large also have a stake in decisions made in the broader region. Safety, ecological, cultural, and quality-of-life issues for current and future residents are among the important factors.
Several caveats are needed at the outset of the decision process. First, it will be necessary to identify funding as soon as possible to initiate decision-making activities. The most pressing issues will require funding more immediately, and continued funding will be needed to support longer-term decision making associated with system management. Detailed discussion of levels and sources of funding, however, is beyond the scope of this report. Second, as indicated throughout the report, a number of data needs must be addressed, and doing so should begin as soon as possible if the viability of long-term management strategies is to be analyzed in the near future. Third, it is likely that some type of interagency agreement will be needed to overcome what the committee sees as policy impasses regarding system management. An interagency agreement will help ensure continued active participation of relevant agencies going forward.
The dispersion of decision authority in the region is a fundamental challenge to implementing the recommended decision framework. Given the lack of an explicit governance structure for management of Spirit Lake and the Toutle River basin as a system, no single federal agency has the budget, authority, or capability to lead a system-wide planning and decision-making process as described. Similarly, no single agency can be solely responsible for implementing any of the preferred system-wide management alternatives. Some coordinating mechanism is needed among responsible agencies to identify management strategies that allow agencies to effectively carry out their respective missions and to engage with the concerns of other interested and affected parties in the region. Without some sort of long-term external influence to encourage and compel the needed coordination, individual agencies may not be able to manage the system in a coordinated manner. Thus, the committee recommends the creation of a system-level entity or consortium to lead the effort. This entity would be responsible for managing a collaborative, multiagency, multi-jurisdictional process than can plan, design a program, create incentives, and seek funding
to implement management solutions. The planning effort should also be open and accountable to all interested and affected parties. Such a body might inform and influence existing authorities and political leaders of the need to fund, coordinate, and develop system-wide risk management programs and plans, and then be responsible for regularly reporting about management decisions and the decision-making process to all interested and affected parties and members of Congress.
Establishing such an entity requires resources and authority beyond that held by any existing agency with management responsibility in the region. Authority for such an entity would likely have to come from Congress. Lack of such an entity, however, does not preclude the implementation of the decision framework recommended in this report. With or without such an entity, those with decision-making authority may still apply the principles of collaborative engagement to inform an analytic-deliberative process.