Long-term management of risks in the Spirit Lake and Toutle River system conducted in a way that is responsive to safety as well as to the multiple values and points of view of interested and affected parties in the region is challenging, but not impossible (Rittel and Weber, 1973). The process of identifying and comparing alternatives to manage both routine and catastrophic risk in the Spirit Lake and Toutle River system is made more difficult due to
- Analytical uncertainty resulting from incomplete or outdated information;
- Analytically irreducible uncertainty associated with low-probability moderate-intensity events and very low-probability but potentially catastrophic events;
- Competing values and interests across multiple interested and affected parties;
- Lack of agreement on the appropriate time horizon for planning;
- Overlapping decision authorities with separate but interdependent responsibilities and budgets;
- Low trust among agencies and the public;
- Lack of a single solution that is likely to completely satisfy all agencies of governments and other interested and affected parties; and
- Inadequate budgets for implementing potentially desired alternatives.
The committee’s statement of task (see Box 1.1) calls for recommendation of a systematic process to identify, explore, and illuminate choices in the face of complexity and uncertainty given these many challenges. The decision framework includes the steps required for interested and affected parties to formulate a problem and to organize the identification of issues, alternatives, and consequences in light of available information and existing constraints of budget and authority.
The framework also guides the identification of those who should be involved at different levels in the decision-making process, which is especially important in the case of decisions that affect many parties with potentially conflicting values and interests. Table 6.1 describes the different and potentially conflicting missions and authorities of the different agencies in the region. Finally, the decision framework guides the process for comparing alternatives. Decision making as described in the next chapters contrasts sharply with the ways in which management decisions for the Spirit Lake and Toutle River system have been made in the past (see Box 6.1).
This chapter includes discussion regarding the choice of a decision framework and provides guidance on how the decision problem is defined (including who leads the decision process, and in what ways, and who participates) and on the relevant spatial and temporal scales of decision making.
The decision framework recommended in this report embodies two overarching elements. First, the decision framework is based on an analytical-deliberative process (NRC, 1996). Broad public input is
TABLE 6.1 Examples of Responsible, Interested, and Affected Entities and Their Objectives
|U.S. Forest Service (USFS)||Caretaker for Mount St. Helens, Spirit Lake, and surrounding lands; funds operation and maintenance of Spirit Lake tunnel; funds emergency repairs on tunnel.||Sustain health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands for multiple purposes (including timber, range, water, wildlife, and outdoor recreation); maintain wilderness in designated areas; involve public in preparing forest plans; operate in compliance with applicable environmental legislation.|
|U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE)||Operate and maintain Spirit Lake tunnel; own and manage sediment retention structure on the North Fork Toutle River; maintain flood protection for downstream communities; stabilize level of Spirit Lake; operate and maintain Castle Lake and Coldwater Lake outlet facilities; coordinate extraordinary maintenance with the USFS.||Survey and improve nation’s rivers and harbors to benefit navigation; develop flood control projects; plan and implement water resource development and conservation projects on major waterways.|
|Mount St. Helens National Monument
(administered by the USFS)
|Manage the Monument area.||Protect the geologic, ecologic, and cultural resources while allowing geologic forces and ecological succession to continue substantially unimpeded; conduct scientific study and research; allow for recreational and interpretive facilities and for the Cowlitz Indian Tribe and Yakama Nation to continue to use the mountain for cultural purposes.|
|Cowlitz Indian Tribe and Yakama Nation||No federally recognized management responsibility.||Protect environment and natural resources through technical expertise; provide housing, transportation, and health services for their peoples as well as spiritual guidance and other cultural resources consistent with their duties as sovereign nations.|
|Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW)||Manage Mount St. Helens Wildlife Area along the North Fork Toutle River.||Protect habitats to assure optimal number, diversity, and distribution of wildlife; optimize wintering elk habitat; support recovery of fish, especially endangered species; operate fish collection facility on the North Fork Toutle River.|
|Washington State Department of Natural Resources (WADNR)||Manage land in the study area, including along the South Fork Toutle River. Manage public trust lands to provide continuous revenue through activities such as harvesting timber and other forest products and other activities.||Manage trust lands to earn income for state beneficiaries, protect water and habitat for native plant and animal species, and provide diverse recreation opportunities.|
|County, local governments; private landowners||Manage their parcels in the area.||Various.|
incorporated throughout the process to both influence and be influenced by technical analysis. Second, the decision framework explicitly calls for use of decision analysis techniques to properly account for the multiple objectives and multiple values of interested and affected parties.
Recommendation: Adopt a deliberative and participator y decision-making process that includes technical considerations; balances competing safety, environmental, ecological, economic, and other objectives of participants; appropriately treats risk and uncertainty; and is informed by and responsive to public concerns. Dialogue among interested and affected parties and technical experts should be iterative, begin with the formulation of the problem, and continue throughout the decision process.
A number of decision-making approaches incorporate these elements; Keeney and Raiffa’s (1993) PrOACT framework is useful as a point of reference both because of its organizing structure and because it has been used successfully in complex water management contexts.
The general steps of the PrOACT framework as described by Keeney are
- Clarify the decision Problem.
- Identify the decision Objectives and ways to measure them.
- Create a diverse set of Alternatives.
- Identify the Consequences.
- Clarify the Trade-offs.
The structure outlined by these bullets represents a process of exploration for an acceptable solution, and it is discussed step-by-step throughout this and subsequent chapters. Alternatives are assessed through a variety of metrics and in consideration of the various trade-offs (or compromises) required of different interested and affected parties until agreement is reached. Once solutions are envisioned, they can then be reconciled with agency authorities, jurisdictions, and funding. This may require revisiting the chosen solution, a normal procedure in a fundamentally iterative
process. Successful implementation of a deliberative process such as that recommended in this report requires expertise that may not be contained within the agencies and organizations involved.
There are many ways to integrate technical analyses and participation of interested and affected parties in a deliberative process, and various principles and procedures have been developed for doing so (e.g., NRC, 2008). Applications of a PrOACT-like process have addressed the relicensing of hydroelectric dams. Gregory and others (2012) mention roughly 30 relicensing studies in British Columbia, Canada. Runge and others (2015) review the application of decision analysis techniques in a Glen Canyon Dam study. Others have considered topics such as the ecological recovery of the Missouri River basin (USACE, 2016b). A related planning protocol—Shared Vision Modeling—has been applied to water quantity management in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint and AlabamaCoosa-Tallapoosa basins (Georgia, Alabama, Florida); to water allocation in the Rappahannock River (Virginia); and to the development of an integrated resources plan for the Los Angeles Urban Watershed.1Conroy and Peterson (2013) include a water management example in their set of case studies. A multiyear effort by the Missouri River Recovery Implementation Committee also uses a PrOACT-like process (USACE, 2016b).
Even among superficially similar applications, the planning efforts vary greatly in scale. An effort to study removal of nonnative fish from below the Glen Canyon Dam did not contemplate any structural changes, but it did involve multiple interested and affected parties, including various government agencies and Native American Tribes (Runge et al., 2011). That application was limited, however, to operational changes at one specific location and was also able to utilize an existing working group. Consequently, it was possible to walk through all PrOACT steps in two meetings, with several weeks of modeling work between the first and second meeting. It is likely to require more than two meetings just to form the decision group and agree on a protocol to address the Spirit Lake and Toutle River system.
A more complex effort was required to develop the Bridge Seton Water Use Plan in British Columbia (Mattison et al., 2014). That study was undertaken against a background of pending lawsuits involving federal agencies and First Nations (Indian Tribes of Canada). The plan required consideration of complex multiple-agency overlaps as well as a complex multiple-reservoir hydroelectric system, although no new physical works were planned. The investigation required 13 main committee meetings over 2 years, plus an additional 25 meetings on technical issues such as fish, flooding, wildlife, recreation, and First Nations’ interests.
Applying the recommended decision framework to multi-stakeholder environmental management issues has led to the development of a variety of engagement tools discussed in the remainder of this report. Some describe the result as “structured decision making” (SDM; Gregory et al., 2012). Others, focusing on the collaborative aspect of the analytics, consider the decision framework part of a broader category of computer-aided dispute resolution (CADRe) techniques (Bourget, 2011). Given their similarities, this text treats all of these as variants of the PrOACT process.
In this report, the committee uses the PrOACT model as the basis for its own recommended decision framework. Major sections of this and Chapters 7 and 8 are named for each of the steps listed above and offer general descriptions of those steps, their importance in the analytical-deliberative process, and the relationship of each step to past or future decisions made in the Spirit Lake and Toutle River system. Recognize, however, that Keeney’s PrOACT framework is focused on a single decision maker’s approach to multi-objective problems. Additional guidance has been developed as the approach has been applied to decisions made with multiple decision participants and the broader issues that arise. As noted in the preceding paragraph, this broader practice has become known as “structured decision making” (Gregory et al., 2012). The remainder of the report draws on both sets of experiences.
A decision problem is that issue—or, as in the case of a system like Spirit Lake and the Toutle River, the set of interconnected issues—about which a management decision needs to be made. The statement of task for this study embodies a broad definition of the decision problem: determining a long-term solution for managing water and sediment transport in the Spirit Lake and Toutle River system. A more precise problem definition may be challenging to articulate; therefore, developing a list of characteristics that describes the decision problem to the extent possible is a critical preliminary step.
Each step of the analytical-deliberative process requires iterative discussions among a lead responsible for implementing the decision framework and the participants in the process. The EPA provides an extensive list of considerations for building public participation into complex decision problems (EPA, 2017). Some key questions to be asked during problem formulation include
- Who leads the process?
- Who is involved, and what is their role?
- What types of solutions can be considered?
- What is the geographic scope under consideration?
- What is the time frame being considered for this decision problem?
Who Leads the Process?
Given the overlapping responsibilities and jurisdictions of agencies in the region, it is difficult and potentially contentious to identify who the “decision maker” is. The overall goal for the participants using the recommended framework is to search for and identify an effective and defensible solution that can be mutually supported. Participants decide to engage in a constructive search for effective and acceptable solutions through a joint problem-solving process because they recognize doing so is to their benefit (Bourget, 2011). But, if the planning framework is to be utilized to man-
age the region as a system, there must be, at every stage, a lead individual or entity responsible for organizing and managing the decision-making process. This is not necessarily an entity with authority over a given piece of infrastructure. Ideally, the lead would be a new system-level entity or a formal consortium of existing agencies. This would provide a central focus for congressional mandates and appropriations, ensure collaboration across agency and jurisdictional boundaries, and maintain continuous engagement by all interested and affected parties. Such an arrangement has many advantages, but it would likely require congressional action that may or may not occur.
Recommendation: Create a system-level entity or consortium of agencies to lead a collaborative multiagency multi-jurisdictional effort that can plan, program, create incentives, and seek funding to implement management solutions focused on the entire Spirit Lake and Toutle River system. This effort should also be open and accountable to interested and affected parties involved in management decisions.
There are a number of examples of system-level entities, including those that apply PrOACT-like decision frameworks. The Glen Canyon Dam Study (Runge et al., 2011), described above, closely followed a PrOACT-like framework and was led by a system-level, interagency working group. Nevertheless, it may take time for such an entity to be authorized and put in place. In the absence of a system-level entity, the planning framework can be managed in other ways. Federal, tribal, and state entities involved might agree on an informal consortium-like arrangement in which, by agreement, one agency serves as lead throughout the planning process. Or, since authorizations and funding are usually specific to certain components of the system (e.g., the Spirit Lake drainage tunnel, the SRS, etc.), the administrative lead may change from time to time as planning progresses through different topics and issues. In this case, the lead might be assigned to the agency most involved with implementing the management actions under review (e.g., the USACE might be the administrative lead when considering issues associated with sediment retention).
The critical feature of this latter arrangement is that all parties agree in advance to utilize the same planning framework. Although the lead may change, and certain decisions may be taken sooner or later, it is possible to maintain the same deliberative and participatory decision-making process throughout. The overall effort, while incorporating all relevant technical considerations and appropriately treating risk and uncertainty, can still seek to balance the competing objectives of participants and be responsive to public concerns. In this way, the decision framework serves the purpose of imposing a systems perspective on analysis and decision making and on integrating and coordinating the otherwise disparate components of an overall solution. Without the decision framework, agencies will likely decide on and implement actions as they have in the past: with insufficient collaboration with other agencies and minimal engagement with other interested and affected parties.
The decision framework is described in this report so that it is neutral with respect to who actually implements it. The text can be read as assuming that the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) acts as a lead, setting up and implementing the decision framework. But the framework would work just as well if applied correctly by the USACE. Effective management of a participatory process when competing views are involved, however, requires the lead to be perceived as neutral. A single agency lead for all or part of the planning process may work (or be perceived to work) at cross-purposes with the broader goals of participation, responsiveness, and public support. Any agency considered as a candidate for lead may also be viewed by other participants with skepticism if a multiparty process is to be implemented using the lead’s internal resources. The diverse skill sets needed to serve as a decision lead and the challenges faced by those providing neutral facilitation services are described by Conroy and Peterson (2013).
A lead could approach the problem of neutrality by creating two distinct roles for the agency in the decision process:
- A neutral support team to implement the framework. This team brings with them:
- Engagement skills to identify and engage interested and affected parties;
- Facilitation skills to navigate difficult topics, interest-based discussions, and value trade-offs (e.g., compromises) in groups of up to approximately 25 people;
- Deep technical and modeling knowledge to help participants build and test “if-then” predictive models of how different management alternatives might impact the system and the consequences for participants; and
- Decision analysis skills to help incorporate human elements (uncertainty, risk aversion, and decision biases), together with technical modeling aspects, into the decision-making process. (Risk aversion is the behavioral trait of people to minimize uncertainty even if actions taken means sacrificing certain benefits.)
- The “agency voice”—a non-neutral role within the core group of decision participants that represents the agency as one of the interested and affected parties, advocating for the agency’s objectives in value-focused discussions.
It may be the case that the lead does not possess all the skills outlined above for the neutral support team. This is most likely to occur if the lead is assigned to an agency predominately staffed by scientists, technical specialists, and engineers. In that case, the lead can hire any missing skills externally: for example, from consulting firms, nonprofit organizations, or universities. Regardless of whether the neutral team is sourced from within or outside of the lead organization, parties will be more willing to participate if they see the process as neutral and fair. This perception and the resulting enhanced participation will likely facilitate equal access to analytical support, transparency in modeling, and the ability to have meaningful input into both the analysis and deliberation. Great care is needed to maintain the independence and neutrality of the team supporting the process and participants.
Who Is Involved?
As described in Chapter 1, interested and affected parties include, but are not limited to, those who will experience safety, economic, cultural, or quality of life impacts as a result of management activities. They may have history of engagement with regional issues, or they may have specialized knowledge of some type of potential impact (e.g., environmental). Efforts to attend to and systematically incorporate the views and knowledge of interested and affected parties into decision making have long been recognized as critical to risk management (NRC, 1996). Participation in decision making by interested and affected parties may be particularly important when (a) the problems addressed and decisions required are complex and can be appropriately viewed from different perspectives; (b) no single entity has overriding jurisdiction or the resources needed to make and implement a decision; (c) the decisions required have the potential to be controversial; and (d) the actions being considered are novel and significant rather than incremental (NRC, 1996; NOAA, 2015). These attributes aptly describe the kinds of decisions associated with the long-term management of the Spirit Lake and Toutle River system.
Involving interested and affected parties in decisions such as those being addressed by the USFS and the USACE is desirable for other reasons. When conducted appropriately, engagement activities can reveal the values that serve as the basis for decision making, enhance the credibility of the information that is used in making decisions, improve the quality of decisions, increase public trust and confidence in decision making, increase institutional transparency, help to resolve disputes, and gain legitimacy for actions that are subsequently undertaken (Yosie and Herbst, 1998; NRC, 2008; NOAA, 2015; Nuclear Energy Agency, 2015). Input from interested and affected parties is needed at all phases of decision making, from setting the context in which decisions will be made to specifying the values and objectives involved and identifying alternatives and trade-offs (Gregory and Keeney, 1994). The process of engaging interested and affected parties, however, must be managed well to achieve the kinds of positive outcomes
listed above. Engagement cannot be undertaken merely for the sake of satisfying bureaucratic requirements, as doing so could ultimately undermine the legitimacy of the effort if parties conclude that their input was sought but then ignored.
Individuals participating in the decision-making process may do so on their own behalf or on behalf of some group or entity. The lead is responsible for making sure all interested and affected parties are identified and for ensuring that the full spectrum of interests is considered in the process. A list of interests and concerns to be represented during deliberation needs to be generated—perhaps initially by the lead—and confirmed with participants early in the process. Having broad participation beyond those with funding and project authority means this list may include a similarly broad range of interests and concerns.
How Are They to Participate?
The International Association for Public Participation (IAP2)2 defines levels of public participation ranging from “Inform” to “Empower” (see Table 6.2). This spectrum is similar to the USACE’s “Degrees of Collaboration” matrix (Dedekorkut-Howes, 2004). Based on discussions with USACE staff and other interested and affected parties in the region, the level of engagement with the public by the USACE in the aftermath of the 1980 eruption appears to align with the “Inform” or “Consult” levels in the spectrum. An integrated and iterative analytical-deliberative process as recommended by the NRC (1996) and in this report pushes engagement beyond this level.
Recommendation: Broaden and deepen the participatory decision-making process from its earliest stages to include and assimilate the knowledge and interests of affected groups and parties whose safety, livelihoods, and quality of life are affected by management decisions.
TABLE 6.2 The International Association for Public Participation Spectrum
|Increasing Level of Public Impact|
|Public Participation Goal||To provide the public with balanced and objective information to assist them in understanding the problems, alternatives, and/ or solutions.||To obtain public feedback on analysis and/or decision.||To work directly with the public throughout the process to ensure that public issues and concerns are consistently understood and considered.||To partner with the public in each aspect of the decision including the development of alternatives and the identification of the preferred solution.||To place final decision making in the hands of the public.|
|Promise to the Public||We will keep you informed.||We will keep you informed, listen to and acknowledge concerns, and provide feedback on how public input influenced the decision.||We will work with you to ensure that your concerns and issues are directly reflected in the alternatives developed and provide feedback on how public input influenced the decision.||We will look to you for direct advice and innovation in formulating solutions and incorporate your advice and recommendations into the decisions to maximum extent possible.||We will implement what you decide.|
SOURCE: International Association for Public Participation (www.iap2.org).
There are inherent compromises between the breadth of engagement and the depth to which individual participants can deliberate in the decision process. This is necessarily true because the lead’s budget to support a decision process will be limited and because not all interested and affected parties have the same willingness, ability, or capacity to participate. Moreover, while erring on the side of broader inclusivity may appear to be more acceptable, broad inclusive participation could be used to shut down meaningful public participation by avoiding the in-depth and iterative discussions required in any PrOACT-like framework (Gregory, 2016).
To work around some of these dilemmas, participation can be stratified into “tiers,” with participants at different tiers being engaged at different depths and frequency. There are multiple ways to organize such tiers: for example, as “circles of influence” (Werick and Whipple, 1994). The broad spectrum and number of interests to be addressed, however, may be smaller than the number of interested and affected parties and also the number of participants. There is an important difference between the framework described here and circles of influence (Werick and Whipple, 1994). In the decision framework described in this chapter, some nonagency interested and affected parties could be part of the tier working through the highest level of deliberation and analysis. Werick and Whipple (1994) describe the highest tiers of deliberation as consisting solely of technical experts, with stakeholders being at a less involved level. The present report recommends a framework that emphasizes deep public participation throughout a decision process.
The decision framework described in this report draws on the work of Gregory and others (2012) and Conroy and Peterson (2013) wherein a small group of participants—up to approximately 25—is selected to represent the broad spectrum of interests. It may include, but is not limited to, key regulatory agencies. This small group explores the in-depth technical discussions, model building, and value trade-offs inherent in the PrOACT process during multiple (e.g., 6 to 10) sessions. The small group concept has been applied to aid collaborative toolmaking within the realm of public
water management decisions (Bourget and Bingham, 2011).3 This tier of deep involvement would also be supported by extensive involvement of the neutral support team that would bring their technical and modeling expertise into the PrOACT steps.
Assigning a small group of participants to address the details of the decision process may result in a sense of lost legitimacy among some of the broader set of interested and affected parties—in particular, those that expressed an interest in the proceedings but that were not included in the small group deliberations. A deliberate engagement effort is needed whereby conclusions reached by the smaller group can be shared and tested with a broader group. This could allay concerns about legitimacy while also providing opportunity to validate the conclusions. As an example, when the broad spectrum of interests is canvassed, several people may identify interest in the impacts of management decisions on hunting and fishing. If one of those individuals is chosen to work in the small group, that person could communicate regularly with his or her broader constituency and then inform the more detailed discussions within the small group, possibly refining the analysis to be conducted. Further, the lead could build links between tiers of participation. This will increase engagement given that members of different tiers will also be members of other organizations. The lead will have to ensure that outreach and engagement activities connect the broader but less organized general public with the in-depth decision process. Methods for broad outreach and engagement are described in the literature (see Conroy and Peterson, 2013).
A decision is reached when the small group of decision participants conducting the in-depth analyses is able to support a proposed solution. Due to overlapping and unclear regulatory boundaries, decision making might be difficult and contentious. Treating the decision process as a multiparty negotiation provides the ability to defer a potentially divisive exploration regarding which agency has final say over which aspects of the
3 The 2011 book Converging Waters: Integrating Collaborative Modeling with Participatory Processes to Make Water Resources Decisions (Bourget, editor) is a collection of papers focusing on computer-aided dispute resolution (CADRe). The process aligns closely with the PrOACT approach used for organizing this chapter, albeit with different emphasis placed on certain aspects.
outcomes. The process begins by defining a problem, understanding the participants’ decision objectives, and then looking for mutually acceptable and defensible sets of actions that address the objectives. The principle is to conceive of the solution before attempting to reconcile that solution with agency authorities, jurisdictions, and funding. This may require revisiting the chosen solution—a normal procedure in a fundamentally iterative process.
Designating consensus among the decision makers as an aspiration rather than a requirement is a useful decision rule for multiparty collaborative processes (Gregory et al., 2001). This allows the process to be used to explore possible, but perhaps at first unpopular, alternatives and may encourage participants to moderate their views as the process nears its end. Responsible agencies may be better able to identify alternatives that will have widespread support. If the parties involved work through a decision framework and arrive at, for example, a mutually acceptable long-term strategy for flood risk and sediment management, then each party, based on its exiting authorities and responsibilities, is more likely to implement its parts of the strategy.
Knowing when to continue or end deliberating is an important part of the terms of reference for participants. This is addressed later in Chapter 8. If a mutually acceptable solution is not found, then participating parties can search for agreement within smaller coalitions of participants or, in the extreme case, fall back to their own legal and regulatory decision-making authorities. And while the participating agencies could ultimately choose to implement a set of actions considered but not supported through the analytical-deliberative process described here, they would at least know which other interests (if any) are supported by their actions as well as the value trade-offs (discussed in Chapter 8) inherent in pursuing that course of action.
The remainder of this chapter will focus on the work of this smaller group of participants.
What Is the Geographic Scope?
While the initial motivation for this current study was related to long-term performance and maintenance of the Spirit Lake drainage tunnel, the geographic scope of the committee’s charge is far broader and extends to long-term management of risks of the entire Spirit Lake and Toutle River system (statement of task; see Box 1.1). As such, adequate long-term risk management of the system depends on system-level analysis of risk. An understanding of the interconnections and interdependencies among subsystems—both natural and engineered—is essential. This approach differs from current widespread practice in the region. Analysis tends to focus on agency-specific responsibilities and interests and on issues at specific locations or features over short time frames. The geographic scope for the broader study, however, is dependent on how much of the system needs to be considered in the decision-making process to fully account for the physical risks and for the interests and values of the participants.
Recommendation: Engage in system-wide thinking when making decisions about management objectives, approaches, and alternatives for the Spirit Lake and Toutle River system. Depending on the issues being considered, the system may include the Cowlitz River or extend beyond it.
Management intervention in any part of the system could have implications both downstream and upstream of the intervention (see Chapter 1). Responsibilities and concerns among interested and affected parties are also connected in ways that become clear only with system-level analysis. Nevertheless, the geographic scopes of individual problems may differ. After consideration of an individual problem, participant objectives, and various consequences of potential solutions, it may be determined that the geographic scope needs to be broadened or narrowed. For example, management decisions related to the Spirit Lake debris blockage could have consequences that extend to the Cowlitz River or beyond; some decisions related to the SRS may be found to have consequences only downstream, but others may have implications for management of Spirit Lake; certain
decisions related to anadromous fish passage could conceivably have implications all the way to the Pacific; or decisions related to a small stream feeding into the Toutle River may be found to have more geographically limited consequences. Similarly, consideration of the other lakes in the region impounded by Mount St. Helens may be important in many of the decisions to be made.
Early agreement among participants on both the definition of the system and the geographic scope is important so that objectives can be identified, allowing alternatives and consequences to be appropriately analyzed.
What Alternatives Can Be Considered?
In the immediate aftermath of the 1980 eruption, multiple alternatives to manage flooding and sedimentation on the Toutle River system were considered. While the original USACE effort to address those hazards contained both flood mitigation and related sediment control alternatives, the solutions to what is a system-wide problem were considered in an ad hoc manner and independently (USACE, 1983), a pattern that continues today among all parties. At least some interested and affected parties attending the committee’s public meetings, however, did view the Spirit Lake and Toutle River system as a whole and discussed potential system-wide solutions.
It is important to have an early and explicit discussion with participants about the scope of the process. This helps to identify differences in expectations between the agencies—and between agencies and the public—to ensure alignment between what the participants want to achieve and what the agencies are willing and able to deliver (NRC, 2008). For example, to control a catastrophic breakout of Spirit Lake, it might be decided to consider alternative lake water levels; alternatives to manage sediment at the SRS and above; and downstream alternatives that reduce risk to populations such as levee construction or improvement, rezoning, and resettlement. All these alternatives may be considered, but in practice there may be disagreement regarding the scope: for example, because of limitations on agency authorities. Such limitations need to be clarified and,
if necessary, challenged. All parties need to have a shared understanding of the scope early in the problem formulation process.
Box 6.2 describes some of the first decisions likely to be made using elements of the recommended decision framework: decisions regarding management of Spirit Lake water levels.
What Is the Planning Time Frame?
Interactions with agency representatives and other interested and affected parties during the course of this study revealed a diverse set of views regarding appropriate planning time frames. While those asked during the meetings agreed with the need for long-term planning, their definitions of “long term” varied widely. Because different planning time frames can lead to radically different management strategies, choosing a time frame can represent an institutional and social conflict associated with management of the Spirit Lake and Toutle River system.
Overly long time frames may cause planners to overlook short-term solutions to immediate problems or not to anticipate changes in the physical system that might occur during a long time frame. For instance, a long enough time frame will also make it a near certainty that a low-probability but high-consequence event (e.g., a geologic or hydrological event) will occur that would disrupt whatever management activities are implemented.
Planning based on short time horizons, on the other hand, may be appealing because they favor alternatives that promise solutions to existing problems. Time frames that are too short, however, may preclude otherwise desirable capital-intensive projects thereby narrowing the range of alternatives that might be considered. They may also understate the importance of various low-probability but high-consequence events that could have substantial effects on different infrastructure elements of the Spirit Lake and Toutle River system.
Arbitrary time frames that are not meaningful for the decisions under consideration can hamper appropriate consideration of management alternatives. For example, the congressional authorization for the SRS was 50 years (i.e., 1985-2035; USACE, 1985). This authorization excludes
consideration of the impacts of any management alternatives beyond 2035. Moreover, the USACE may only begin to consider such alternatives and their impacts in 2030. This planning horizon fails to identify how current decisions affect management and decommissioning impacts beyond 2035. The long-term risk and financial and other burdens to future residents and taxpayers may be left unaddressed (see Box 6.3 for greater detail). This issue was raised by an independent evaluation of the SRS project:
Using 2035 as the end year of analysis in the [USACE Mount St. Helens limited Re-evaluation Report] does not address the uncertainty surrounding sediment transport in the basin for the period beyond 2035 and may affect the economic and environmental results of alternative evaluations. . . . The Panel believes that the physical life of the project is of primary importance when considering the long-term effectiveness and the environmental consequences of the project. Therefore, discussion and evaluation of the alternatives for the period beyond 2035 should be provided for a more complete understanding of the longer term economic and environmental aspects of the alternatives and to support the selection of the recommended plan. (Battelle, 2014: 6)
The USACE did investigate expanding the planning horizon beyond the authorization of the SRS to 2060 to identify how the decision process might change if the authorized lifetime of the project was extended (USACE, 2010a). The committee is not aware that such action has been taken.
Early on in the process, the decision participants described in Box 6.2 will need to consider time frames associated with the decision process itself (i.e., the time needed to gather necessary information); time frames associated with different natural hazards and processes; and time frames associated with infrastructure life cycles. They could be informed, for example, by presentations from experts in volcanic and seismic hazards to learn the probability of cataclysmic volcanic or seismic events over short and long time horizons. They may want to consider the time horizons that the chances of such events rise to near certainty and “reset” the system, as described in Box 6.3. Other
presentations could highlight which decisions need be made given asset life spans and other considerations. Explicit recognition of the trade-offs associated with the choice of different management time frames will also need to be presented.
Chapter 7 discusses the next steps of the decision process, which include identifying and choosing among the various priorities and objectives of interested and affected parties and the generation of potential sets of alternative actions.