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Open-File Report 2012–1186

Disputes over Science and Dispute Resolution Approaches—A Survey of Bureau of Reclamation Employees

By Nina Burkardt and Emily W. Ruell

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (3.22 MB)Abstract

Water resources in parts of the Western United States are over-allocated, which intensifies the pressure to support water management decisions with strong scientific evidence. Because scientific studies sometimes provide uncertain or competing results or recommendations, science can become a source of disputes during decision-making processes. The Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) is an important water manager in the Western United States, and Reclamation decision processes are often contested by a variety of affected constituencies. We conducted a Web-based survey of Reclamation employees to determine (1) which types of disputes over science are occurring and how common they are, (2) which approaches have been used by Reclamation to try to resolve these different types of disputes, (3) how useful Reclamation employees find these approaches at resolving these types of disputes, (4) the final outcomes of these disputes and the decision-making processes that were hindered by the disputes over science, and (5) the potential usefulness of several different types of dispute resolution resources that Reclamation could provide for employees that become involved in disputes over science.

The calculated minimum response rate for the survey was 59 percent. Twenty-five percent of respondents indicated that they had been involved in a dispute over science while working at Reclamation. Native species and species listed under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 were the most common issue types reported in these disputes over science. Survey respondents indicated that they used a variety of approaches to resolve disputes over science and rated most approaches as either neutral or somewhat helpful in these endeavors. Future research is needed to determine whether there are additional variables underlying these disputes that were not measured in this survey that may identify when dispute resolution methods are most effective, or whether resolving aspects of these disputes, such as differing interpretations of science, is very difficult or impossible regardless of the dispute resolution methods used.

First posted October 2, 2012

For additional information contact:
Center Director, Fort Collins Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
2150 Centre Ave., Bldg. C
Fort Collins, CO 80526-8118

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Suggested citation:

Burkardt, Nina, and Ruell, E.W., 2012, Disputes over science and dispute resolution approaches—A survey of Bureau of Reclamation employees: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2012–1186, 49 p.


Executive Summary


Web Survey

Study Objectives and Results


References Cited


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