Computer-Aided Dispute Resolution




Disputes over water are often bitterly fought. In the Old West, many a man 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.

Computer-Aided Negotiations

Computer-Aided Negotiations (CAN) is a marriage between two fields: (1) computer modeling/simulation, and (2) dispute resolution. Computer models provide a realistic portrayal of actual water availability, use and operations, and allow water 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.

Many of the CAN techniques were derived from work managed and performed by Dr. Daniel Sheer (President of HydroLogics, Inc.) while he was the technical director of CO-OP at the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin. HydroLogics pioneered the use of Computer-Aided Negotiations (CAN) and operations exercises to resolve complex water resources conflicts.

Clients who have successfully used the CAN process conducted by HydroLogics include:


  • Kansas Water Office,
  • Southern Nevada Water Authority,
  • South Florida Water Management District,
  • Delaware River Basin Commission.


Operations Exercises

More and more of HydroLogics' clients are using operations 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.

Operations exercises are usually performed using HydroLogics' patented OASIS software. The software tracks the flow of water and other important aspects of simulated operations. At each time step system managers are presented with the current state of the simulated system, and also the recommended operations based on existing operating policies. The managers then decide if and how to modify those operations. The changes are input to the computer by someone familiar with the model (sometimes HydroLogics' staff), and the computer simulates the impact of the rules and changes over the next day (or longer, as desired).

Because time is "speeded up" in the exercise, the impact of past decisions on the current state of the system is readily apparent. It often becomes clear where and how operations rules and policies might be improved. Since all parties to the decision making process are in the same room as the exercise progresses, new lines of communications are often opened, and the participants build a common understanding of the issues. Management decisions in operations exercises are usually made by actual system managers and operators, but those representing other interest groups can also "play the parts." The educational value of such an experience, and the potential for improving working relationships cannot be overstated.


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