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Fatal Flaws


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Fatal flaws* are foreseeable trainwrecks, or negative effects that cannot be offset by any degree of benefits from other factors (e.g., jeopardizing an endangered species, inundating a wild and scenic river). Negative effects may be real or perceived. In either case, the result is the same--the option won't work.

One way to avoid fatal flaws is ensuring that your process includes all of the necessary checkpoints (e.g. 404 permits) and participants (e.g., decisionmakers).

If at any point you identify a fatal flaw, evaluate to determine if:

  • It really is a fatal flaw --ask if there is any way around it.
  • Another option will meet the need* without the fatal flaw
  • The cost to fix is higher than the option's worth
  • The need is worth addressing

If not,

Additional documentation, such as a Biological Opinion* may help delineate what can and cannot be done. Use required processes such as Section 7 consultation under the Endangered Species Act or Section 404 permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to work with other groups and communicate to avoid fatal flaws early on.

In the Planning process required for obtaining construction funding through Congress ( Principles and Guidelines*) four tests are used to screen options for fatal flaws:


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Note: These files were developed and were originally hosted at the Bureau of Reclamation, United States Department of the Interior.
I am hosting this as an archive. Contact Deena Larsen (deenalarsen AT for further information.