Construction of the R.L Harris dam on Alabama’s Tallapoosa River in 1977 created immediate stakeholder conflict. The utility wanted to maximize operational flexibility and avoid litigation. Conservationists wanted to mimic natural river flow rates for fish spawning and habitat restoration. Homeowners on the reservoir wanted sustained high lake levels.

Group Solutions was engaged to begin addressing these conflicts through a long-term process of adaptive management. This approach is unique because it includes all stakeholders in the process, incorporates competing objectives, and recognizes the uncertainty inherent in natural resource systems.

Stakeholders negotiate a starting point for management actions, the effects are monitored and compared with predicted results, and management strategies are adjusted accordingly. The process then becomes iterative through a “monitor-compare-adjust” cycle. 40 stakeholders participated in the initial workshop and ratifying a stakeholder board governance charter.

Modified operations, agreed to by all partner organizations began in 2005. Periodic updates and facilitated discussions have been scheduled to keep lines of communication open with all stakeholders.

Project sponsors at USGS and Auburn University have recognized the following ingredients critical to process success:

  • Impartial facilitation.
  • A visual decision support model allowing stakeholder input and optimization of values associated with various decisions.
  • A governance structure for sustained involvement and stakeholder ownership in the process.
  • A long-term commitment to learning the effects of management through system monitoring and adjusting management regimes.