Conflict Resolution

Disputes over water are often bitterly fought. In the Old West, many a person was killed over water. The situation is little different today. In the U.S., the gun-slingers of old have been replaced with armies of high-priced lawyers and well-funded lobbyists. But it is a take-no-prisoners struggle nonetheless. In the rest of the world, water conflicts are even more urgent. Water lies at the heart of several of the world's most intractable regional conflicts.

HydroLogics pioneered a process we call computer-aided negotiations (CAN), which is a marriage between two fields: computer modeling and dispute resolution. Computer models like OASIS provide a realistic portrayal of actual water availability and operations, allowing planners to simulate the effects of alternative approaches. Techniques drawn from the dispute resolution field provide a strategy for resolving disputes that can result in solutions that address all the parties' interests, avoiding the typical adversarial posturing that are normal in water disputes.


The process involves a systematic approach consisting of the following steps:

  1. Develop performance measures

  2. Agree on data and methods

  3. Identify alternatives

  4. Assemble and/or develop
    evaluation tools collaboratively

  5. Assess and create new alternatives
    in stakeholder sessions

  6. Select preferred alternative and
    develop implementation strategy


HydroLogics has led many successful CAN processes, including those for the Bow River Basin in Canada (see our 2008 video here), Roanoke River Basin (see our 2002 video here) , Kansas Water Office, Southern Nevady Water Authority, South Florida Water Management District, Delaware River Basin Commission.  CAN has also been applied as a learning tool in undergraduate courses (OASIS in the Classroom). 

Dan Sheer, founder of HydroLogics, developed many of the CAN concepts while helping manage the Washington D.C. metropolitan area water supplies in the 1970s.  The CAN processes greatly reduced the need for new infrastructure to achieve the desired system reliability, thereby saving hundreds of millions of dollars, and put in place the institutional framework to successfully implement the preferred strategies. 

As a means of building consensus and resolving conflict, more and more of HydroLogics' clients are using operations (or drought) exercises in order to test and improve existing operating procedures. Exercises are also being used to inform staff, board or commission members, and the public as to the issues involved in managing water resource systems.

Our experience with CAN is featured prominently in this book on collaborative modeling compiled by the Corps of Engineers Institute for Water Resources.  Click on the link below and refer to Chapters 4 (Potomac River Basin), 5 (Roanoke River Basin), 7 (Susquehanna River Basin), and 13 (training and education).

For an overview of the computer-aided negotiation process, click on the seminal article below.  Written by Dan Sheer, HydroLogics' founder, the American Water Works Association reprinted the article's first page in commemoration of its 100th year anniversary in 2014.  For the full article, click here

© 2016 by HydroLogics