A new framework for water conflict resolution
McMahon, George F.
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The recent collapse of the ACT/ACF Compact negotiations discloses significant shortcomings in traditional approaches to resolution of transjurisdictional water conflicts involving multiple stakeholders. Without full acknowledgement of the broader external issues fueling the conflict and without collaboration by the parties to eliminate extraneous sources of intractability, the core dispute is unlikely to be correctly framed and the negotiations may be illinformed as a consequence. Poor framing can prevent consensus on core objectives and constraints and misdirect the formulation, analysis and evaluation of water management alternatives. Consensus remains elusive, the diligent efforts of the parties notwithstanding. At the core of the ACT/ACF negotiations were models for simulation of operational alternatives, which, while sophisticated, addressed primarily symptoms, e.g. flow deliveries, water consumption, reservoir operations, drought response, etc., as opposed to causes of the conflict. The ACT/ACF conflicts demonstrate that incomplete characterization of the parties, issues, social system, and processes framing the conflict contributes to the difficulty and expense of the core modeling, and more importantly makes disclosure of satisfactory solutions around which consensus can be fashioned unlikely. The author proposes to synthesize widelyrecognized elements of successful conflict resolution to create a new framework for management of water conflicts. The procedure involves the following four steps: • Identification of sources of intractability in the parties, issues, social system, and process • Conflict re-framing to eliminate or minimize sources of intractability • Consensus on core problem definition, core objectives and constraints • Parameterization of satisficing core models, consensus on management alternative The author conceptually describes the processes of re-framing and consensus management pending proof-of-concept demonstration. New or existing ‘off-the-shelf’ models may be applied to analysis of the core problem. The entire conflict management process is iterative; should the core modeling disclose new sources of intractability that prevent consensus, previous steps may be repeated to re-frame the conflict and/or re-define core objectives and constraints. Some components of the proposed conflict management framework may be suitable for integration within computer-aided decision-support or expert systems, depending on the number and complexity of parties and issues involved.