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Shared Vision Planning

NDS - Step 4 - Formulation Alternative Plans

Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.

— Thomas Alva Edison, 1932

Edison’s light bulb, shining in a thought balloon, has become the image associated with the discovery of better ideas. But, as Edison’s famous quotation suggests, this is not how invention works and certainly not how new water management ideas are developed.  What will prevent a Drought Preparedness Study (DPS) team from overlooking the good alternative? In what detail should an alternative be formulated before it is evaluated?  And how do group dynamics influence the formulation of alternatives? This section provides a framework for classifying and understanding alternatives.

There are three types of alternatives:  strategic, tactical and emergency. 

Strategic measures are long-term responses, such as the provision of water supply storage or codes requiring the installation of drought-resistant landscaping in new homes. They are usually established in law and supported by considerable investment.

Drought responses (often called drought contingency plans) are tactical measures. Tactical measures are short-term and deal with problems within the framework set by strategic measures.

Emergency measures are responses to circumstances that exceeded expectations (such as droughts more intense or prolonged than any on record) or events with a very rapid onset (such as pollution of water supply or disruption of water delivery by floods, earthquakes and cold).

Some alternatives are on the border of two categories. While it is not important for a study team to label an alternative as being exclusively in one of these three categories, it is necessary for a team to consciously consider the relationships between the three types of measures. For example, emergency responses can be much more effective if the coordination mechanism is exercised along with the tactical drought response, and the effectiveness of some drought contingency measures may be helped or hurt by the implementation of strategic measures.

An initial list of alternatives should be developed by brainstorming early in the DPS, but after the first statements problems and planning objectives have been developed.  Brainstorming can be supplemented with the generic alternatives listed in Table 6. Brainstorming is apt to include a number of preconceived alternatives to the status quo, some advanced by the stakeholders it will benefit. DPS teams should focus on the ends, not the means, and should avoid using the DPS to justify any group’s idea.  The next section on evaluating alternatives (Step 5) describes how these initial ideas can be evaluated quickly so that only the most promising alternatives are developed in detail.

Table 6: A List of Typical Strategic and Tactical measures
 

STRATEGIC

TACTICAL

Supply Alternatives

   

  New storage

 

 

  Reallocation of supplies

√ 

 

  New system interconnections

√ 

 

  Desalinization, importation by barge, reuse

√ 

√ 

Operational Changes

   

  Conjunctive use management

√ 

√ 

  Water banking

√ 

 

  Long-term changes in reservoir release rules

√ 

 

  Conditional reservoir operation and in-stream flows

 

√ 

  Water marketing

 

√ 

  Institutional changes

√ 

 

  Legal changes

√ 

 

  Operational coordination between systems

√ 

√ 

Demand Modification

   

  Voluntary and mandatory use restrictions

√ 

√ 

  Pricing changes

√ 

√ 

  Public awareness

√ 

√ 

  Changes in plumbing codes

 

  Conservation credits

√ 

√ 

  Changes in irrigation methods

√ 

 

  Industrial conservation techniques

√ 

√ 

  Alternatives to water consuming activities

 

√ 

Environmental and Water Quality Changes

   

  Reductions in required low flows

 

√ 

  Alternative means of achieving water quality

 

√ 

Since brainstorming is a crucial process in developing alternatives, it is worthy of some attention here.   

Brainstorming is a process which has been used extensively in value engineering and other areas where innovative alternatives must be found. It is best done in small groups led by a recorder who simply lists every idea that is offered by any member of the group. 

The key to successful brainstorming is to withhold criticism until the group has exhausted its creativity. This can be very difficult, especially when water experts brainstorm with stakeholders, because many of the ideas will have technical flaws or will be unresponsive to the planning objectives. Encouraging all participants to freely offer solutions achieves many ends: it can allay fears that possible solutions have been overlooked; provide the insight of a fresh perspective to an expert; force the examination of good ideas that experts know have powerful foes; or allow interesting, but ultimately unsuitable ideas to be raised and rejected in an equitable and public manner.  

After the uncritical brainstorming, participants should eliminate redundant ideas and then use preliminary screening criteria to reduce the number of alternatives. Brainstorming can be used to assemble a collective response better than the best ideas of any participant. But if none of the participants know much about a subject, the collective answer will also be uninformed. Unfortunately, it has become much more common to see brainstorming used in this way. Brainstorming with agency staff alone is not sufficient to identify stakeholders’ needs. Especially during the first step of the DPS process, brainstorming with stakeholders is a valuable supplement to a review of previous reports on water resources problems in the basin.  Brainstorming with stakeholders alone will not produce solutions that are technically adequate. During this step in the DPS process, stakeholders should be encouraged to express their ideas for alternatives, but the preliminary screening process should allow experts to use their knowledge to explain why some ideas should not be studied further.