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The following terms are common to many Reclamation activities. Understanding what they mean in the context of the decision process is not so common. Using these terms interchangeably or in ways that confuse the meaning will cause misunderstandings and delays at best. So take some time to think about what you mean and explain it to others.


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One of the "four tests of viability" that the Principles and Guidelines use as screening criteria. Principles and Guidelines define acceptability as "the workability and viability of the alternative plan with respect to acceptance by State and local entities and the public and compatibility with existing laws, regulations, and public policies." Use this test as part of a fatal flaw analysis to screen options. upto top


Action plan:
A documented strategy for solving a problem. Action plans come under various names and guises: statement of work, study plan, etc.
Updating action plans serves as a record for the problem solving effort and provides background for new players. upto top


Affected public:
Groups, organizations, and/or individuals who believe that an action might affect them or who are otherwise involved in the decision process. Scoping helps identify these publics. upto top


The sum of an individual's values, purposes, and goals, especially in relationship to your decisionmaking process. upto top


Alternative :
A plan to meet one or more objectives. Alternatives are usually made up of two or more components or options that can work together to solve a complex problem. upto top


Alternative future scenario comparison
A description of what would most likely happen under each alternative. This visualization helps determine which alternative would be more desireable. upto top


Analysis : 
Examining existing and/or recommended needs and their relationships to discover and display the outputs, benefits, effects, and consequences of a range of alternatives. upto top


An area can be a range of: ideas, desires and needs, issues and concerns, causes and effects, or objectives and solutions. Areas can also be geographic, political, environmental, and technical. See problemshed. upto top


Area of influence:
The area that either affects or is affected by the problem or solution (e.g., Settler Creek watershed, Settler Creek National Forest, townspeople, or Reclamation). See problemshed. upto top


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Conditions that curently exist. Also called "existing conditions." upto top


Baseline profile:
Used for a survey of the environmental conditions and organisms existing in a region prior to manmade disturbances. upto top


Long-held assumptions about the way needs are met (e.g., "people can change things through the system," or "politics drive decisions"). See mythtruths. upto top


Biological Opinion:
Document which states the opinion of an environmental agency (i.e., National Marine Fisheries Service or U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) as to whether a Federal action is likely to jeopardize the continued existence of a threatened or endangered species or result in the destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat. Often, a biological assessment is prepared by the consulting agency as source material for the environmental agency.upto top

A statement of estimated funding needs in a certain time period to do a specified amount of work. upto top


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Call letters
Letters asking for inputabout specific projects and programs into the budget process and outlining general priorities at the Secretary and Commissioner level. See budget. upto top


California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA):
California's NEPA counterpart, with similar analysis, public comment, and reporting requirements. upto top


Comfort levels:
The points where people feel comfortable and able to work--in political, technical, and other arenas. upto top


Sharing information, persepectives, assumptions, etc. with one or more people. upto top


A group that can act or influence. Communities are groups affected by or capable of supporting the solution. upto top


Weighing the evaluated effects of alternatives to determine what best fits the needs. Comparison involves tradeoffs and priorities. upto top


One of the "four tests of viability" that the Principles and Guidelines use as screening criteria. Principles and Guidelines define completeness as "the extent to which a given alternative plan provides and accounts for all necessary investments or other actions to ensure the realization of the planned effects. This may require relating the plan to other types of public or private plans if the other plans are crucial to realization of the contributions to the objective." Use this test as part of a fatal flaw analysis to screen options. upto top


A matter of importance to one or more individuals or groups. Issues and concerns delineate needs. upto top


A struggle where participants perceive threats to values or interests. Conflicts are situations where people seek to promote their own agenda at the expense of someone else. upto top

The next four terms are further explained in consent/consensus :


Unanimous agreement and support. You can often build consensus through tradeoffs and compromises. upto top


Consensus Building:
Getting everyone to support a solution and unanimously work to translate it into a long-term, real solution. upto top


Agreement not to actively oppose the process. You can often build consent by showing that there is a serious problem, the right groups are addressing it, and that the process to solve the problem is fair. upto top


Consent Building:
Making sure no one actively opposes or tries to stop the project upto top


A limitation or restriction. Resources and constraints are vital to determining what you can and can't do. upto top 


Core team:
Participants that are actively and intensively involved throughout the process. Usually, an agency sets up a core team of employees and may invite key participants to join this team. See levels of participation. upto top


Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ):
A three-member council within the office of the President established by Title II of NEPA to provide overview capability of environmental conditions and recommend ways to achieve NEPA to the President. CEQ has published regulations (40 C.F.R. 1500-1508) implementing procedural provisions of NEPA. upto top


Being percieved as worthy of trust, belief. Participants are more willing to invest resources and take risks when they know the process and other participants have proven themselves to have integrity.


Cultural resource: up to top
Any building, site, district, structure, or object significant in history, architecture, archeology, culture, or science. This can extend to include a community's heritage and way of life. upto top


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To methodically and logically analyze steps and processes to find problems. A programmer's term originating from finding moths that short-circuited computers. Used to trace cause and effect to determine needs. upto top


A participant who decides on a course of action. Who the decisionmakers are depends on the project, organizations involved, and jurisdiction. upto top


Decision process:
A fluid, flexible process that solves problems step by step. A systematic, conscious approach to each step in the decision process can lead to agreements, partnerships, actions, and policy to meet existing and future needs. Take the Decision Process Tour or go to the Decision Process Guide homepage. upto top


Study relating to the statistical study of human populations. upto top


Developing Alternatives: The process of understanding human values and applying technical knowledge to solve unmet needs related to those values. upto top


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Complex system composed of a community of people, animals, and plants as well as the chemical and physical environment. See problemshed. up to top


A result or consequence. See impact. up to top


One of the "four tests of viability" that the Principles and Guidelines use as screening criteria. Principles and Guidelines define effectiveness as "the extent to which an alternative plan alleviates the specified problems and achieves the specified opportunities." Use this test as part of a fatal flaw analysis to screen options. up to top


One of the "four tests of viability" that the Principles and Guidelines use as screening criteria. Principles and Guidelines define efficiency as "the extent to which an alternative plan is the most cost-effective means of alleviating the specified problems and realizing the specified opportunities, consistent with protecting the Nation's environment." Use this test as part of a fatal flaw analysis to screen options. up to top


Sum total of all biological, chemical, social, and physical factors to which organisms are exposed. upto top


Environmental analysis:
NEPA defines this as a systematic process for considering environment factors in resource management actions. upto top


Environmental and Interagency Coordination Activities (EICA):
An investigations line item in the General Investigations appropriation which funds internal and external technical studies and provides for coordination with agencies having primary responsibility for environmental and other matters. EICA provides funds to prepare studies prior to project investigations. upto top


Environmental assessment (EA):
A NEPA compliance document used to determine if an action would have a significant effect on the human environment. If not, write a finding of no significant impact; if so, go through a more detailed analysis process and write an environmental impact statement (EIS). An EA covers the same ground as an EIS, only with less detail and research. upto top


Environmental impact statement (EIS):
A NEPA compliance document used to evaluate a range of alternatives when solving the problem would have a significant effect on the human environment. The EIS is more than a document, it is a formal analysis process which mandates public comment periods. An EIS covers purpose and need, alternatives, existing conditions, environmental consequences, and consultation and coordination. upto top


Existing conditions:
Characteristics of the problemshed or planning area that exist at the time of the study. See baseline conditions. upto top


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Not solving the problem or meeting the need. Continuing to spend money, time, and other resources on the problem without moving closer to solving it. See avoiding failure. upto top


Fatal flaw:
Any problem, lack, or conflict (real or perceived) that will destroy a solution or process. A negative effect that cannot be offset by any degree of benefits from other factors. upto top


A determination that something can be done. A feasibility report is required in some planning processes to examine the situation and determine if a workable solution can be developed and implemented. upto top


Finding of no significant impact (FONSI):
A NEPA compliance document which affirms that an environmental assessment found that alternatives were evaluated and a proposed action would have no significant impact on the human environment. upto top


Ability to think about the future and come up with options and solutions that will address future needs. upto top


Full range:
The widest range of nonstructural and structural options grouped into alternatives to address as many objectives as possible. Alternatives should span the continuum from no action at all to the maximum amount of action possible. Alternatives should also explore different types of actions. upto top


Future without:
The future without taking any action to solve the problem. See "no action alternative." upto top


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An end or purpose. A vision of what the action will accomplish. See objectives. upto top


Go/No Go decision:
A decision either to continue or terminate a process or action. Frequent go/no go decision points can help provide reality checks to ensure that:
  • The problem is still serious
  • Your process is still working toward a viable solution
  • You are still the correct agency to act (it would be irresponsible if you didn't.
  • You are still acting in a fair and responsible manner.

If one of these four points is missing and you continue, you will lose credibility on this and further actions. Determine if bowing ou t or reexamining the needs, goals, or options is appropriate. upto top


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Hidden agenda
A set of purposes, goals, or interests that are not openly admitted to other participants. These corrupting influences will become known and can undermine the crediblity of the process or participant. See agenda. upto top


Human environment:
Natural and physical environment and the relationship of people with that environment including physical, biological, cultural, social, and economic factors in a given area. upto top


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An economic, social, environmental, and other consequence that can be reasonably foreseen from implementing an alternative. upto top
To activate, to do, to put into effect, to translate a plan into a reality.upto top
A group, organization, or individual who actually see to it that a plan is carried out (e.g., time keepers, data entry for project accounting and pay). upto top


Doing something. Translating a plan to action. upto top


A particular measure for an issue that will illustrate the overall situation. See discussion of and example table for indicator analysis. upto top


Any person, group, issue, project, action, or resource interacting with or directly or indirectly affecting someone or something else. upto top


Conditions or situations perceived as a threat to long-held values. Issues and concerns delineate needs. upto top


To repeat. The problem solving process is iterative--you repeat the decision process steps at wider and broader levels. See Decision Analysis. upto top

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Defined unit or method you can use to analyze the relative desirability of an action and ensure that alternatives are compared in the same manner. See indicators. upto top


A measurable action, state, or goal which marks a point of achievement on the way to solving the problem. upto top


NEPA defines mitigation as action taken to avoid, reduce the severity of, or eliminate an adverse impact. Mitigation can include one or more of the following:
  1. Avoiding impacts
  2. Minimizing impacts by limiting the degree or magnitude of an action
  3. Rectifying impacts by restoring, rehabilitating, or repairing the affected environment
  4. Reducing or eliminating impacts over time
  5. Compensating for the impact by replacing or providing substitute resources or environments to offset the loss. upto top

See Monitoring and Follow up.


A misconception or unfounded assumption that has evolved into a firmly held belief. Mythconceptions are unspoken concepts that participants hold as obvious but that may or may not stand up to reality. Hurdles discusses specific decision process mythconceptions such as: change, policy, agendas, and politics. See mythtruth, below. upto top


Mythtruth :
An idea (true or false) that has evolved into mythic proportions and beliefs. Rumors, reputations, half-truths, second guesses, unsupportable facts, etc. are myth-truths. Original concept resulted from mishearing a statement made in an interview for this guide, but when we asked, the contributor said the term evoked what the comment really meant. upto top


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National Register of Historic Places:
Federally maintained register of districts, sites, buildings, structures, architecture, archeology, and culture. upto top


Demands on resources required to sustain values or standards (e.g., a safe, secure water supply, protection of ecosystem or species, environmental stability, appropriate economic developmen, and community viability). upto top


National Environmental Policy Act. An act requiring analysis, public comment, and reporting for environmental impacts of Federal actions. upto top


No Action Alternative
A description of what would happen if you didn't take any actions to solve the problem. This description is used as an alternative as a base of comparison foraction alternatives. See also future without. upto top


A National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit under section 402 of the Clean Water Act. This permit may be required if water quality could be affected by the proposed action. upto top


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Objective :
A specific statement of what the solution hopes to accomplish. A specific, measurable, timely goal to meet the need (e.g., ensure water from Settler's Creek at the Iron Peak gauge meets Colorado's water quality standards for rural streams). upto top


The potential to manage, conserve, develop, or re-allocate available resources to meet needs. upto top


Participants :
Organizations, groups, or individuals who take part in the problem solving process. upto top


Partnership :
Two or more groups, organizations, governmental entities, or individuals working together to achieve a defined purpose. Direct or obvious benefits to each organization's role may not always be readily apparent. Also called alliances, coalitions, etc. See Working in Partnerships. upto top


Phased implementation.
See Staging and Tiering. upto top


Policy :
A philosophy behind the actions. Policy is often codified for an agency. upto top


Politics :
A catch-all term for the interactions of people and institutions. upto top


Political judgement
A decision made based on nontechnical assessments of input from interest groups, influences, and relative power of groups. upto top


Principles and Guidelines (P and G's):
Economic and Environmental Principles and Guidelines for Water and Related Land Resources Implementation Studies from the Water Resources Council, March 10, 1983. This work* provides the principles and guidelines for planning Federal water resources projects. The Corps Planning Manual provides good explanations of the Pand Gs. upto top


The relative importance of activities or issues involved in a project, action, or situation. upto top


Priority Stack
A memory device such as a bunch of yellow stickies moved around to establish precedence or importance and timeliness of issues, then recorded and dated to document priority of tasks. upto top


Situation where needs go unmet, issues are not addressed, or values are threatened (e.g., mine discharge in Settler's Creek). See Identifying Problems. upto top


Problemshed :
Where the problem or solution is created or impacted. The content and context of a problem: a geographical, social, or conceptual area of related actions, influences, and needs. upto top


Professional judgment:
A decision made by a person knowledgeable in the relevant field of expertise, and generally based on that person's experience and all information reasonably available at the time. Available data and rationale for the decision should be documented. upto top


Public involvement:
The systematic provision for affected publics to be informed about and participate in Reclamation decision processes. It centers around effective, open exchange communication among partners, agencies, organizations, and all various affected publics. upto top


Public involvement plan
The PI plan is described in Reclamation's public involvement manual. It is based on the action plan, and provides a systematic approach to linking between what needs to be done and what needs to be communicated. See public involvement, above. upto top


Reason for doing something. See discussion of purpose in Agreeing on Context. upto top


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Record of Decision (ROD):
A NEPA compliance document that states the decision made, describes the environmental factors considered, the preferred plan, and the alternatives considered in the environmental impact statement. upto top


Relevance :
Bearing upon, connected with, and pertinant to the decision and solution. upto top


Something that is needed to solve or is affected by a problem. upto top


The potential for losing credibility, failing to solve a problem, or getting hurt. upto top


Round table review:
A brief meeting between a few key players. Useful in determining objectives. upto top


Round tuit:
A small round button with the letters "tuit." This token can be given when someone says "I'll do it as soon as I get around to it." upto top


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Scoping :
Consulting with affected and interested publics to define the extent of a study. The process of identifying issues, participants, areas to cover, available resources, and constraints. Identifying the area, issues, and groups affected or involved by a given activity or subject. Usually associated with NEPA processes, this term applies to all decision processes. upto top


A systematic plan of time and resources. See milestones. upto top


Screening criteria:
Factors that determines whether an option, element, or alternative can solve a problem. Screen options to find workable alternatives. upto top


Significance :
Having meaning or importance to the decision and solution. upto top


In implementation, doing the work in stages. See tiering or phased implementation. upto top


Groups and individuals who have specific interests in the resources and issues or will be affected directly by the decision and solution. Stakeholders may not be direct participants (e.g., children, people who chose not to participate, people who don't know about the action). upto top


Standardized methodology:
Comparing all alternatives in the same way. Document the comparison. See discussions on analysis and indicators. upto top


Solving a problem, meeting current and future needs. This guide gives some tips for success and a more indepth definition. upto top


The ability to continue without outside interference (e.g., a habitat that thrives on its own, a solution that does not require major structural or organizational changes to keep on working). upto top


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  2. In NEPA compliance processes, covering a large area with one programmatic EIS and then creating little EISs and EAs based on the "mother" EIS.
  3. In implementation, doing the work "on the installment plan" as you have resources. upto top


Relative comparison of desirability associated with all alternatives. Tradeoffs consider the impacts on factors and resources significant to the decision. Then tradeoffs are measured by a standardized methodology (see above definition) to compare all alternatives to a no action alternative. upto top


Round items that are very hard to come by--as soon as I get a round tuit, I'll do that...

Large, bumbling creatures that often eat dwarves. Trolls turn to stone in sunlight. upto top


navigate in the page--U-Z

Principles, standards, or qualities of life considered worthwhile or desirable (e.g., freedom from fear of disease or drought). Values affect: level of participation , definition of needs acceptable options , showstoppers, and levels of support  or opposition. Recognize that values can change. upto top


Venting is the process where people voice their views and fear concerning an identifiable problem, e.g. losing jobs, destroying resources or livelihoods, dangerous situations. upto top


Vetoers :
Anyone actively trying to stop your project through the courts, Congress, or other means. upto top


How important a decision factor is when compared with other factors. This determines priorities when evaluating alternatives. upto top


Windshield Assessment
A cursory level of detail--about the same amount of accuracy that you would get counting a herd of cows when travelling on the freeway at about 75 mph. upto top


navigate in the page--Go On

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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.