Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page

Chapter 2 - General considerations for a planning methodology

Planning literature suggests considerations that should form part of environmentally conscious river basin planning. They will serve to orient both the formulation and evaluation of alternative projects and programs which meet the objectives of development while maintaining environmental stability and productivity.

· Environmental objective

The reason for including an environmental quality objective is that environmental quality then becomes an integral part of the whole planning process to be treated at each of the planning stages. Further, it helps to insure that each member of the planning team has concern for environmental quality when formulating and evaluating strategies and projects.

The legal basis for explicitly stating environmental quality as a developmental objective varies among countries. In most places, however, laws exist that provide the legal basis for incorporating environmental protection as a developmental objective. Laws governing land use, management of natural resources, environmental quality, and public health provide this basis.

One example is the General Water Law of Peru (Government of Peru, 1969) which declares that all waters within Peru's territory are the property of the State and that the Government, through its Water Administration, will formulate the general policies for water use and development, and plan and administer its conservation, preservation, and rational use. Title II of this Law gives the Water Administration power to dictate and apply the necessary means to avoid the loss of water regardless of reason. Furthermore, each water user is obligated not to impair the use of water by others. The law prohibits any discharge which could contaminate the water to the degree that it endangers human health or the normal development of the fauna or flora.

Likewise, the legislation which created the Venezuelan Ministry of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources has as its first objective the establishment of principles for the conservation, protection, and improvement of the environment of Venezuela (Government of Venezuela, 1976). And, the stated policy of the Ministry is to "... give primary attention to the participation of the State in the planning, administration and use of the renewable natural resources, in order to contribute to the conservation, defense and improvement of the human environment in Venezuela" (MARNR, 1977).

International agreements and conventions also exist which should help orient the planning objectives of individual countries and those international agencies that respond to requests for assistance in planning. One such instrument is the 1940 Convention on Nature Protection and Wildlife Preservation in the Western Hemisphere. Most of the member states of the OAS have signed and/or ratified this Convention which commits them to take steps for managing and conserving their flora and fauna. In Resolution 218, the sixth regular session of the General Assembly of the OAS (1976) urged "... the implementation of the Convention by the member states through National Cooperation in activities such as scientific research and technical cooperation and assistance to wild flora and fauna,... (and) the adoption of measures to conserve wild flora and fauna and to protect species which are in danger of extinction."

· Explicit treatment of environmental quality throughout the planning process

Explicit treatment of environmental quality is necessary because the planning process increases in rigidity from the statement of the objective to execution of the program. Therefore insertion of concern for environmental quality after initiation of the planning process becomes increasingly more difficult. To place environmental concerns at the beginning help assure that they will be considered during the entire process at little extra cost, circumvents the environmental - development disputes that come later, and provides additional information for the formulation and evaluation of projects.

In this regard, the make up of the team that undertakes the reconnaissance stage study becomes important. Since the purpose of this team is to define the work program to fulfill the developmental objectives required by disciplines and terms of reference of the next planning stage, an environmentalist should be included.

The need for a topographic survey in the planning process is implicit. Guidelines for geographical planning usually include an explicit statement of the kind and detail of topographic survey required for planning. Environmental planning requires no less. Apart from the potential for disregarding environmental concerns not explicitly stated, there are problems of precision, direction, utility, and cost that cannot be defined without stating explicitly those environmental concerns and parameters relevant to the study. What is the degree of precision necessary? What are the terms of reference for the technician? Which professional disciplines are required and how are they to be integrated into the overall planning process? How much should they cost and how will the information be used? These are questions that require answers if there is to be an adequate environmental input, just as similar questions need to be answered for work on any other problem. They can be answered only if the concerns are made explicit.

· Consideration of dynamics and interactions

The world in which we live is one of action and interaction, of cause and effect, of movement and change in both time and space, and the planning team must pay attention to the nature and meaning of these interrelationships. To be sure, it is more difficult to measure the properties of a dynamic system than it is to measure a stationary state, but it takes only a few well chosen observations on a system to provide useful information. The number and size of the trees in a forest may be important for planning purposes, but a knowledge of the role of the forest in erosion control, water supply, as a food source, the value of its gene pool as well as its replacement potential, successional stage, and position in the nutrient cycle is important for those same planning purposes.

A number of fairly reliable techniques have been developed in systems analysis which could be and have been profitably used in planning (Walters, 1974). Fortunately, they can be used at almost any level of sophistication and can play an important role in organizing the study as well as in analyzing the ecosystems involved. The value of these methods of analysis can be seen in the results of a study of the environmental impact of hydroelectric development in the James Bay area of Quebec where the use of systems analysis showed some 26 impacts to have an opposite value from those suggested by a staff of professionals in natural resource fields who had analyzed the impacts on the basis of intuitive analysis.

· Use of interdisciplinary teams

The holistic nature of our environment requires the use of interdisciplinary teams in planning. In the past, much of river basin planning was undertaken by engineers, economists, and hydrologists for narrowly prescribed purposes. However, as the objectives of river basin planning expand to encompass interests other than the construction of major facilities or river control, there is a need also to include other disciplines in the planning process in more than a consultative role. The ramifications of river basin development are too broad, and the chance for error too great, for its planning to be left to one more or less homogeneous group. Indeed, the problem with the word "intangibles" is that what may be intangible to an engineer or economist may be well understood by a sociologist, anthropologist, epidemiologist, or ecologist. Because the reverse is also true, interdisciplinary planning teams become necessary. A team working toward a specific objective, be it engineering, social, or environmental, should include sufficient disciplines to cover any anticipated issues. Both formal and informal interaction among the team members should be encouraged to allow for the formulation of more appropriate plans and programs.

· Coordination of river basin planning efforts with other functional planning entities

Although the limits of a river basin generally are precisely defined, river basin planning influences and is influenced by conditions and planning outside these limits. Planning units exist that are larger than, or otherwise different from, a river basin. And, because data are often obtained on the basis of these planning units, they generally make a good basis for socio-economic planning. However, the river basin is also a unit whose processes act together regardless of the political borders that cross it or are imposed upon it. Water, without a large imput of energy, runs downhill. Because of this fact, and the resultant interactions, there is a great potential for environmental damage caused by development all along the drainage system whether or not that drainage system includes one or several planning entities, be they municipal, regional, state, national, or international. It is because of this damage that the river basin must be considered in relevant, environmentally sound planning. However, the interest here is not necessarily to form a planning unit having geographic boundaries that coincide with those of the river basin. The central concern is that the basin be kept intact as the focus of the planning process. All planning need not be done at the same detail or intensity throughout the basin, nor done by one agency. However, water being "offered" by the upstream watersheds must be kept at a necessary quality and quantity to supply the needs of the basin. These needs can include water to be supplied to the intake of a canal carrying it outside the basin; sufficient head to furnish power for hydroelectric energy; sufficient quantities for irrigation or for municipal and industrial use; and adequate flow to the estuary for the support of the food chain on which the country's offshore fisheries depend.

Whatever mechanisms, arrangements, or hierarchical structures for coordination are required of the various planning entities to keep the integrity of the basin as a planning focus intact, they should be developed.

· Public participation

Decisions of importance often involve a great many subjective values. This condition is aggravated when the decision involves development planning and it is especially so when that planning is in the early stages.

The participation of the public in river basin planning decisions is, at the same time, both necessary and problematical. It is necessary because development involves life quality values which vary over time as well as between and within cultures and individuals. Likewise, much of the data on which planning decisions are made are of the most subjective kind. And these decisions not only try to predict the future but also, to an even larger degree, attempt to guide the future. Since these can involve the "quality of life" of thousands or even millions of people, it is best that they themselves have the opportunity to say what they want for their future.

It is problematical because, for public participation to be of value, participation must be informed and based on a certain degree of self-understanding. Furthermore, it is problematical because cultures differ in the manner in which political decisions are made, and these vary from the completely democratic to the completely autocratic. Whatever the socio-political-cultural realities, however, efforts should be made to protect public interest and a mechanism should be provided so that public interest is considered when fixing and adjusting objectives, and when the decision on a development project is made.

It would be impossible to mention all the mechanisms whereby public concern can be included. In terms of incorporating public interest, the ideal is an informed public discussion and a vote on each decision that affects a particular public. Recognizing that this is neither practical nor, perhaps, possible, the form to be used in each case should be as close to the ideal as possible. In some areas, the most practical would be an intergroup advisory committee where theoretically each affected group, culture, and geographic area is represented and the representatives know the feelings of their constitutents sufficiently well to be able to protect those interests when necessary. The important thing is not that the committee or council be elected but rather that it represent and be able to articulate the interests of its constituents.

· Generation of alternatives

Almost any use of any resource in any place at any time will create conflicts between competing interest groups. Use of one resource may mean the destruction of another. Because river basin planning looks toward the development and use of resources, the planning activity is not immune to these conflicts and clearly their rational resolution is called for before projects are initiated; rational resolution of these conflicts necessitates the generation of alternative plans for development. The number of alternatives, of course, depends upon the number and nature of the stated objectives. If, for example, one of the stated objectives is national economic development and another is regional economic development and conflict arises between them, then at least two alternatives are called for. An additional alternative, a compromise between the two, may also be necessary. A further alternative of no action should be evaluated as well.

The number of alternative plans developed during the planning process depends on the complementarity of the objectives as well as on the conflicts between the objectives. That is, the satisfaction of one objective does not necessarily preclude the satisfaction of another.

During the initial phases of planning, a large number of alternatives may be put forth and discarded as not feasible with little more than a cursory examination. Later stages of planning, however, require more detailed work, more data, and more points of view in order to refine and/or combine the various alternatives and to assign to each alternative a fairly accurate estimate of the cost and benefits based on a number of criteria. Although the planning team may often rank the various alternatives according to an indicated priority, the final group of alternatives should be presented to the decision maker. A decision to execute a program not only depends upon its technical and economic feasibility but also upon criteria well outside the mandate of the planning team, such as legal constraints, possibilities for cost sharing, viability of competing developmental alternatives outside the river basin, and socio-political realities.

· Assignment of economic values to adverse and beneficial environmental impacts

Certainly, a large number of environmental impacts are not quantifiable at all, not to mention quantifiable in economic terms.

Many of what can be classified as environmental values have been appropriately included in the past in an economic analysis. For example, commercial forestry and fisheries losses are commonly included as a cost of a hydroelectric power project. Additionally, however, attempts have been made to further calculate environmental costs on the basis of a distinction between commodity and amenity resources (Krutilla and Fisher, 1975), and the concept can be useful in assigning values to costs and benefits at the early planning levels.

Commodity resources are those that require the intervention of some form of production technology between the resource in its natural state and its use by man; they are those resources that are allocated on the basis of some form of market mechanism. Examples are the use of forests for lumber, mining of ore for production of metals, and harnessing of a river flow for production of power.

Amenity resources are used by the final consumer without the use of production technology and may not be allocated on the basis of market processes. Examples are the scenic value of a rare landscape or the values associated with certain maintenance free services offered by natural ecosystems. Another obvious amenity service relates to the sustaining of life itself through the provision of acceptable air and water qualities. Advances are being made in the economic assessment of these and other amenity services provided by the natural, cultural, and historic resources of our environment. Persons working on the economic evaluation of projects should work together with other disciplines which may be required by the project in defining these values.

· Consideration of alternatives that do not foreclose other options

Methods of identifying a problem of option foreclosure include evaluating the uniqueness of the affected resources or processes and considering the irreversibility of the impacts of a given development project. Although difficult to evaluate quantitatively, these two methods give rise to a preservation value for unique environmental amenities. This value has been termed the option value or the option demand and it is characterized by a willingness on the part of individuals to pay for the option to preserve an area possessing important or potentially important resources and processes that could be irreversibly altered by a development action (Weisbrod, 1969; Ciccetti and Freeman, 1971).

If a dam were to be built in an area for the production of hydroelectric energy and, with the passage of time, it was determined that the value of preserving that same area would have been greater than the value of the dam, the preservation option would no longer be open. On the other hand, if the area were preserved and it was later determined that the area would have a greater value from the production of power, this development option could be implemented. Thus, where a choice is between preservation and development, and there are uncertainties with respect to future demand for the services of either alternative, there may be significant costs associated with the alternative which forecloses future option. The more unique the amenities associated with a particular environment, the greater the value of maintaining future options.

A further important aspect of assessing the values associated with a given environment treats the symmetry of future preservation benefits in comparison with those of resource development. Technological change generally increases our ability to produce commodity goods while it is incapable of augmenting the supply of resource amenities. As technology increases the available supply of commodity substitutes, the value of the amenity services from preservation will rise relative to its use as a factor of production. If advancing technology reduces the real cost of producing the final output over time, the value of the resource as a factor of production will decline in absolute terms (Smith, 1972).

It can be argued that a given environment can have significant value in a preserved state, and these arguments do not preclude the management of that environment in a manner which enhances rather than destroys its amenities. Further, these valuation principles apply equally well to the preservation of historic or cultural assets associated with a society's endeavours.

· Display of adverse and beneficial effects

Planning should present sufficient data and information to a decision maker so that a choice between the alternatives offered by the planners can be made. A decision maker can only do this if the whole range of a decision's consequences are known. These consequences cannot be reduced to a single term, such as the benefit/cost ratio, without severe distortion. To do so vastly increases the potential for error, and the use of only one term can obscure more information than it reveals. To circumvent this danger, both the potentially adverse and beneficial effects of a project should be displayed as completely and as quantitatively as possible. These effects can often be expressed as economic values but, if this is not possible, other quantitative and qualitative factors can be used. They may be defined in other terms as well, their influence on man for example, and evaluated on a simple scale showing the uniqueness of the environmental component to be affected and the significance of any effect that is irreversible.

In addition to displaying the adverse and beneficial effects of development, some effects should be "flagged" to receive further study because of their unknown importance, and some should be "flagged" to indicate that they must receive special attention, either because of their danger or because of their value - whether or not that danger or value can be quantified.

Use of these considerations in the planning activity will help to ensure that decisions aimed at the betterment of the human condition will meet that objective. Engineering and economic considerations will not be diminished in decisions relevant to river basin planning because of these considerations. Indeed, the point should be made that sound engineering siteing and design, and valid economic and social analyses in the formulation and evaluation of development projects often can do a great deal for environmental protection since no direct environmental impact can be assigned to developmental projects that do not take place. This statement should, in no way, be construed as "anti-development," nor should it be interpreted as saying that all projects require a favorable benefit/cost ratio to be valuable. What it does say is that change is a fact of life and that inadequate analysis has all too often been the case1. As a result, decisions have often been made to execute projects that are marginal or worse from both the developmental and the environmental protection points of view.

1 Changing interest and discount rates are examples. It has been stated that raising the interest rates used in calculating project costs from 3.5 percent to 5.0 percent would make one-half of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects now planned uneconomical (U.S. Congress, 1975). Likewise, all costs should be included in the analysis. A recent study showed that, in 103 U.S. Bureau of Reclamation projects planned prior to 1955, the average estimated costs were running 75 percent below actual costs even after adjustments for actual costs for construction price trends and changes in project planning, design, and engineering were made (after Scrhamm and Burt, 1970).

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page