(Summer ’15) Hannah Susan Payne, G
Hannah Payne (G, Urban Studies and Planning)
Hannah will spend the summer in Salt Lake City, Utah, working for the Environmental Dispute Resolution Program (EDRP), based at the Wallace Stegner Center in the S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah. Over the summer, she will be helping to build capacity for collaborative problem solving of environmental conflicts in Utah and the Intermountain West. She will work on a number of projects, including developing programming for the Utah Forum on Collaboration and designing a collaborative community forum on water issues for the Town of Rockville, UT.
Rockville Wrap-up and Reflections On This Summer
As the last task of my internship, I co-facilitated a community forum on water issues in the Town of Rockville, Utah. The meeting was a great success and had a good turnout. Most of the people I interviewed in preparation for the meeting showed up, as well as a number of technical experts. The meeting was intended to provide the community an opportunity to ask questions and collectively learn about the water issues and opportunities in the town.
We opened the meeting with a brief presentation by the engineer who recently completed a water master plan for the culinary (potable) water company that serves Rockville, which was followed by a question and answer session with the engineer and others in attendance who could provide relevant answers. We recorded all questions and took note of any questions that did not get answered during the meeting. This list of questions will be provided to town and water company leaders so they can begin to respond or conduct further research where necessary. After the Q&A session, we ran an exercise asking attendees to write down up to three things that are most important to them about culinary water in Rockville on post it notes. I helped to visually cluster these post-its at the front of the room to show the key, overlapping interests of the community. Not too surprisingly, most people had similar concerns and were primarily concerned with maintaining an adequate water supply.
Meeting attendees asked very good questions of the technical experts and each other and seemed to walk away with a better understanding of the water system limitations, opportunities, and data gaps. Our hope is that with these questions, data gaps, and a better sense of the common community interests, the town and water company can move forward in making challenging choices about future water supply and use in the community.
It was exciting to pull together a very different type of community meeting then the residents of Rockville were used to but I am happy to have been a part of it. Several attendees came up after the meeting to thank us for the meeting, commenting that this meeting was much more civil and productive than some previous town meetings. It was great to see that intentional process design and strong facilitation can lead to better collaboration, even among people with very different views and objectives.
This lesson was consistent throughout my internship. The case studies I researched revealed that with skilled facilitation, planning, and by setting the intention of collaboration, a potentially conflictual group can learn to work together and collectively problem solve. It was very heartening to see that collaboration can work. I am excited to start the new school year with this sense of optimism (which is very hard to come by when studying climate change). I am looking forward to exploring more how collaborative processes can be used to solve, or at least improve, challenging planning and environmental problems.
I am very grateful to the MIT Public Service Center for making this summer experience possible. It was wonderful to see how collaboration can lead to positive changes in a variety of complex contexts. And I was happy to be able to support the very special little town of Rockville, which would not have been possible without the support of the PSC.
*My apologies having no photos of the meeting. I took many with my phone but failed to save them before my phone drowned in a thunderstorm while I was hiking in Glacier National Park.
Relationships and Trust in Collaboration
Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the August meeting of the La Sal Sustainability Collaborative (LSSC), a collaborative group that is seeking to develop a comprehensive, sustainable approach to grazing management on tens of thousands of acres of primarily public land in southeast Utah. The group is comprised of representatives from San Juan County, Utah state agencies, ranching permitees, and conservation groups. State and federal agency personnel participate in the group as resource experts. The LSSC is co-convened by the Utah Grazing Improvement Program and the Grand Canyon Trust and is facilitated by Michele Straube, director of the EDR Program. Sitting in on the meeting allowed me to see firsthand the value of collaborative processes in conflict resolution and problem solving.
During the meeting, it was clear that the participants had come to respect one another and trust in the collaborative process. Environmentalists, ranchers, and federal land mangers were able to sit together and discuss management and monitoring practices openly and honestly. Ideological arguments flared up only a few times and they quickly dissipated—often without the need of a reminder from the facilitator. Although this was my first meeting, it was obvious that the group had worked hard to get to this point where they trusted each other enough to have a healthy level of respectful conflict and a shared understanding that working together will produce a better outcome than the alternative.
Relationship building, like what I saw at the LSSC meeting, has come up as a key to collaborative problem solving in several interviews with participants of various collaboration projects that I am researching this summer for case studies that will be used in the Utah Forum on Collaboration. Over and over, I have been hearing how important it is to humanize the people on the other side of an issue in order to work together. It was really wonderful to witness this at the LSSC meeting where I saw participants, who in other contexts might be considered enemies, joking with one another. Too often we get polarized on issues and dig our heels in on our positions. Seeing this group of people with different goals and political views work together was evidence that it doesn’t have to be that way and that by building relationships and trust, collaborative problem-solving can move people towards solutions that would otherwise be unavailable. These are lessons that are very important to natural resource managers, city planners, and policy makers alike.
If you’re interested in hearing more of my thoughts on why collaborative problem-solving is important, check out my blog post on the EDR blog about climate-related risk management!
This week is my final week here at the EDR program and it will be a busy one. I will attend the Salt Lake City Homeless Services Site Evaluation Commission meeting, another collaboration that Michele Straube facilitates, and I will help run the community forum on water in Rockville on Thursday. I have put a lot of work into understanding the complex water issues that the Town of Rockville faces and I am excited to see my work come to fruition in the meeting on Thursday. Residents will have the opportunity to learn, share information, and ask questions about water supply, demand, and policy in the town. I will be writing another blog post about that meeting so stay tuned for details!
Outside of work, I checked two more national parks off of my list this past weekend: Arches and Canyonlands! I would highly recommend both but would suggest avoiding the summer heat if possible—it was over 100 degrees both days!
At Arches National Park.
At the top of Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park after a full day of stakeholder interviews in Rockville, UT.
Big cities aren’t the only places with difficult planning challenges.
As part of my work with the EDR Program, I am helping the Town of Rockville prepare for a community forum on water issues in the town. The forum will be held on August 20th and will be facilitated by Michele Straube, director of the EDR Program. This week I had the opportunity to travel to Rockville to interview stakeholders and tour the town.
Rockville is a small town of just 250 residents in Washington County, Utah, located near the main entrance of Zion National Park. Zion is one of the most visited national parks in the United States and the number of visitors has increased approximately 20% in the past decade to 3.2 million visitors in 2014 (NPS). Park visitation is expected to increase even more, with most of those visitors traveling through Rockville to reach the park.
Like many small towns, Rockville is fighting to maintain its culture, agricultural heritage, and rural way of life in the face of many external pressures. For Rockville, these pressures include continued regional growth and development, ongoing drought, and increasing recreation activity in the area. Rockville’s amazing geography and surroundings have begun to attract a wide range of tourists, mountain bikers, ATV riders, and visitors looking for a spot to camp (since campsites within Zion fill early on busy days). While many communities might consider this an economic boon, Rockville doesn’t allow for commercial activity and therefore has no commercial camping or recreation operations and has very limited financial resources to manage this influx of activity. This combination has led to rampant illegal camping and misuse of trails on Rockville’s iconic mesas.
A “no camping” sign on Bureau of Land Management land in Rockville.
Beyond putting pressure on Rockville’s trails and public lands, increased tourism and exponential regional growth have serious implications for Rockville’s already stressed water supply.
Southern Utah has been experiencing drought conditions for many years. This is the second summer in a row that, due to water shortage, the State Engineer forced a “call” on the Virgin River—prohibiting use of water by those with water rights issued after 1901. The Virgin River flows through Rockville and Zion National Park and is the river that carved the park’s incredible canyon. Despite its proximity to the river, Rockville is not directly impacted by these restrictions because its irrigation water rights are some of the oldest along the Virgin River, issued well before 1901, and Rockville’s drinking water (referred to as “culinary water” in Utah) comes from an aquifer perched on a mesa above the town.
While Rockville’s water supply has not been directly impacted by the call on the Virgin River, the town is concerned about the recharge of its aquifer and what ongoing drought might mean for the future. It is therefore not surprising that during a recent community forum that was facilitated by Michele Straube and the EDR Program, Rockville residents identified water as one of their top priorities to address. Coming out of that meeting, town leadership decided to hold a separate community forum to discuss water issues.
Through my work as an MIT PSC intern, I am helping to design this forum, which will be an opportunity for collaborative learning—where residents will be able to share information and experiences and learn from each other. To better understand the context of water issues, challenges, and opportunities, I am currently interviewing stakeholders throughout the town to learn about their diverse perspectives on water. I have spoken with town and water company leaders, farmers, new and long-time residents, and landowners that have struggled to build or renovate homes due to restrictive water policies in town. During these interviews I am learning about people’s main concerns, their questions about water policy and supply, and what they envision as the ideal next steps for Rockville.
Farming in Rockville, UT
This has been an excellent opportunity to practice some of the key skills of stakeholder engagement, such as identifying a diverse set of stakeholders, interviewing, and recognizing opportunities for mutual gains. What has been most illuminating from the interviews is how people can have very similar interests but vastly different positions on issues. For example, many residents agree that the town should do a better job of conserving the current water supply but have different ideas on the best way to increase conservation measures. Some want to see more efficient irrigation practices while others prefer to see residential growth restricted as a means of conservation.
I am excited to work with the EDR Program team over the next few weeks to design and run this meeting in Rockville. Our hope is that we can help the citizens of this amazing little town recognize some of their similar interests, work through some of their differences, and come together to collaboratively address their key water-related challenges.
In the meantime, I look forward to getting out and exploring more of Utah! My foot is on the mend and I have many more beautiful places to check out before I leave.
Hiking in Bryce Canyon National Park.
While I will be spending most of my summer in Salt Lake City, Utah, I have been getting started on research and work for the Environmental Dispute Resolution (EDR) Program from Cambridge.
Over the past couple of weeks, I have been getting myself acquainted with my new colleagues and all of the great work that the EDR program has already accomplished. The EDR program works to promote mediation, collaboration, and alternative dispute resolution processes to address environmental conflicts in Utah and the Intermountain West. Check out some of their projects here: http://www.law.utah.edu/projects/edr/current-projects/
I am very excited to be spending my summer learning how to design more collaborative processes for environmental problem solving and decision-making and to be doing so on environmental issues that are very different from the problems we face in New England. Utah has limited water resources, is experiencing significant growth, has a vast amount of federal lands, and has a very different political climate than Massachusetts. Thanks to generous funding from the MIT Public Service Center I will be able to broaden my understanding of the environmental policy landscape in the United States by getting firsthand experience with environmental issues in the Intermountain West.
Environmental conflicts are often contentious and can lead to entrenchment. But like most problems, better outcomes can be achieved by working together to find a solution. Because our environment is a collective resource, it is even more imperative that environmental issues be addressed in an inclusive, democratic and collaborative manner. I am looking forward to being able to turn these ideas into action through my work this summer.
While I am still nailing down the projects that I will work on this summer, here is a quick preview of some the things I will be working on:
- I will conduct research on best practices of collaborative leadership training for natural resource managers to inform the design of EDR’s own natural resource leadership training short course. This course will help natural resource managers throughout Utah improve their leadership and facilitation skills and increase collaboration in their work.
- I will help develop programming for the Utah Forum on Collaboration—a one-day forum for state and federal agency personnel to share their own experiences with collaboration and to learn from one another.
- I will work with a small town in Southern Utah to develop a collaborative meeting process for a community forum on water that will be held in August. The town is located in a growing region near Zion National Park and is in the process of deciding how to plan for future changes.
- I will help to edit and develop case studies on successful and not-so-successful examples of collaboration in Utah.
- I will blog for the EDR blog… check it out here: http://www.law.utah.edu/blogs/edr-blog/
Finally, I also intend to pursue my personal interests this summer by investigating the state of climate change planning in Utah and the Intermountain West. I am particularly interested in understanding how cities and communities plan strategically for the impacts of climate change and build resilience. Salt Lake City is beginning the adaptation planning process and I hope to follow this over the summer.
In the meantime, I am packing up my stuff and getting everything in order for my move on July 1st. A minor toe injury—tendinitis in my toe—has added a fun twist to packing and a stylish new look for me!
Stay tuned for updates from Utah and hopefully more exciting photos from weekend adventures!