Shared Vision Planning on the James River, Virginia
Whereas other Shared Vision Planning (SVP) studies have typically addressed reservoir operation issues (e.g., Lake Ontario Study, Mississippi Headwaters, ACT-ACF, etc.), the Corps also needs to work with stakeholders as it performs its regulatory role under section 404 of the Clean Water Act, and it must increase its support to states in performing their water management roles. Likewise the state of Virginia recognizes the critical roles of both public involvement and technical analysis in implementing the new state water supply planning regulations. Therefore, the state of Virginia, the Corps’ Norfolk District and USEPA Region III are helping guide IWR’s pilot SVP study for the James River to support the Corps/EPA 404 regulatory role and the state’s water planning process. The effort will take 3-5 months and will involve workshops, model development, limited data gathering and initial decision-making trials.
In February 2007, an open workshop on “Finding and Creating Common Ground in Water Management” among the stakeholders in the James introduced the idea of using Shared Vision Planning to facilitate learning and improve decision-making for water management. The workshop presented the collaborative modeling process and experiences from other locations in Virginia (Rappahannock) and elsewhere and provided an opportunity for preliminary discussion of its possible role in the James. Extensive discussion revolved around the state’s new locality-driven water supply planning process and the potential linkages between local water supply plans and both state and federal regulatory roles. The Corps traditional planning and operational roles (the Corps operates a flood control reservoir in the James headwaters) was also discussed.
Currently IWR is working with stakeholders to initiate collaborative modeling building activities through the circles of influence approach of Shared Vision Planning. In the James example, the model building team will consist of modelers from the Corps, state government, and other technical experts who both have technical expertise and time to devote to the study. This core modeling team will be supported by additional people from other interest groups who will also participate in the modeling process, offering their groups’ perspective or technical expertise. Because stakeholders are involved in building the model they treat the model as their own; they understand it and trust it. Although the model will not be perfect, it will form the basis of discussions about water management, both for the state as it collects local water plans into a state look at water availability and for the state and federal regulators as they make decisions about water-related permits.
By the end of this pilot effort we will develop an initial model of the river system that is accepted by all stakeholders and used to run scenarios to evaluate water management decisions. The model will be simple enough to be understood by most of the stakeholders, but it will include available technical information and address objectives of multiple stakeholders. Once a collaboratively developed model has established a framework for stakeholder engagement and acceptance, the model can be always improved or more data collected.
The model will support Virginia’s state planning effort by a) collecting technical information in the basin for use by localities in developing water supply plans and for states in evaluating the future permit applications, b) increasing the knowledge among stakeholders in the basin of water supply challenges and opportunities, and c) serving as a potential collaborative planning tool for localities to use in developing their water supply plans. Likewise the effort will support the Corps/EPA 404 regulatory role by engaging stakeholders in watershed-scale analysis of water issues in the James and establishing a forum for a technically based discussion across stakeholders.
The pilot study will also support the Corps’ traditional planning role by initiating a collaborative planning process that can then be deepened either at the watershed or project level and by demonstrating new collaborative methods for application to state water planning needs. Finally the study will create a framework for future collaborative modeling studies along at least three new fronts: use within a regulatory context; testing of a “pilot” level of effort with limited expenditures of time or money; and support to state water planning.