Executive Summary

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps) has played a large and important role in shaping water resources systems in the United States since Congress first tasked it in 1824 to improve navigation on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Since then, rivers have been modified for navigation and flood control, harbors have been dredged for shipping, and coastlines are routinely fortified against erosion and beach loss. Recent decades have seen an overall decline in budgets for civil works project construction, yet the range of objectives for water resources projects has broadened as society places more value on environmental and recreational benefits. Thus, the Corps’ portfolio of water resources projects has changed considerably. There is a reduced emphasis on traditional construction projects and an increased focus on maintenance and reoperation of existing projects such as locks, dams, and levees and on environmental restoration projects ranging from local streambank rehabilitation to large and complex projects intended to restore ecosystem function of entire regions.

The expanding range of water projects has increased the complexity of water project evaluation while also increasing the spatial and temporal scale of the necessary analyses. At the same time, the requirement for local cost-sharing and a focus on local client service has pressured the Corps to focus within narrow project boundaries. Water project planning has evolved toward a more collaborative venture, giving voice to many stakeholders representing the diverse objectives that water projects can address. Successful water project planning and evaluation in a multi-objective, multi-stakeholder environment requires an integrated systems approach capable of a balanced evaluation of all relevant issues (e.g., hydrologic, geomorphic, ecologic, social, and economic) over relevant scales of space and time. Such an approach is required to identify unintended



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River Basins and Coastal Systems Planning within the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Executive Summary The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps) has played a large and important role in shaping water resources systems in the United States since Congress first tasked it in 1824 to improve navigation on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Since then, rivers have been modified for navigation and flood control, harbors have been dredged for shipping, and coastlines are routinely fortified against erosion and beach loss. Recent decades have seen an overall decline in budgets for civil works project construction, yet the range of objectives for water resources projects has broadened as society places more value on environmental and recreational benefits. Thus, the Corps’ portfolio of water resources projects has changed considerably. There is a reduced emphasis on traditional construction projects and an increased focus on maintenance and reoperation of existing projects such as locks, dams, and levees and on environmental restoration projects ranging from local streambank rehabilitation to large and complex projects intended to restore ecosystem function of entire regions. The expanding range of water projects has increased the complexity of water project evaluation while also increasing the spatial and temporal scale of the necessary analyses. At the same time, the requirement for local cost-sharing and a focus on local client service has pressured the Corps to focus within narrow project boundaries. Water project planning has evolved toward a more collaborative venture, giving voice to many stakeholders representing the diverse objectives that water projects can address. Successful water project planning and evaluation in a multi-objective, multi-stakeholder environment requires an integrated systems approach capable of a balanced evaluation of all relevant issues (e.g., hydrologic, geomorphic, ecologic, social, and economic) over relevant scales of space and time. Such an approach is required to identify unintended

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River Basins and Coastal Systems Planning within the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers consequences, multiple stressors, and cumulative effects and to evaluate trade-offs among competing objectives such that the true costs and benefits of a project may be examined within a context that incorporates the interests of all those with any substantial stake. An integrated approach to water resources planning at the scale of river basins and coastal systems is widely endorsed by the academic and engineering communities and is clearly supported by the Unified Federal Policy for a Watershed Approach to Federal Land and Resource Management (65 Fed. Reg. 62566, October 18, 2000). The Corps’ mission, expertise, and experience give it immense potential to alter the structure and functioning of the nation’s waterways and coasts. The Corps has embraced its responsibility to plan, develop, and operate water resources projects in a way that considers both economic performance and opportunities for environmental restoration, while minimizing unwanted or negative impacts to other areas within a watershed, adjacent watersheds, and the coastal system. To accomplish this, the Corps has made significant policy changes and has adopted an integrated watershed or regional perspective and environmental stewardship as primary institutional objectives. As might be expected in a large and complex organization answering to a range of public and private demands, implementation of these new policies and objectives is neither consistent nor complete. At the request of Congress, the National Academies’ National Research Council (NRC) appointed four study panels and a coordinating committee to recommend improvements in the Corps’ water resource project planning and review process (Appendix D). These panels considered different dimensions of Corps planning (peer review; analytical and planning methods; river basins and coastal systems; adaptive management) (Appendix C). The chairs of the four study panels were all members of the coordinating committee, which enabled it to follow discussions within and among study panels. Each panel operated independently and in accord with NRC guidelines. The coordinating committee issued its own report, which was also subjected to standard National Research Council procedures. In doing so, it considered the draft reports from the panels (in the case of peer review, the panel’s final report was used; see NRC, 2002a), as well as discussions among panels, panel chairs, and coordinating committee members. The studies were organized under the auspices of the NRC’s Water Science and Technology Board and Ocean Studies Board, with input from the Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology and the Transportation Research Board. The charge to the Panel on River Basins and Coastal Systems Planning (shown in Box ES-1) directed it to examine the challenges in water resource

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River Basins and Coastal Systems Planning within the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers planning that are inherent in the nature of large, complex, natural systems. This report conveys the results of the panel’s deliberations and makes public its findings and recommendations. BOX ES-1 Panel Statement of Task Review and make recommendations on the Corps' planning, design, operation, and evaluation activities in the context of the nation's river basins and coastal systems. Topics covered will include economic and environmental benefits and costs over a range of time and space scales, multiple purpose formulation and evaluation methods, trade-off analysis, inter-agency cooperation, and the integration of water development plans with other projects in the region. A SYSTEMS APPROACH Hydrologic systems, and the economic and ecologic systems that they support, are complex, changeable, and interconnected. Effective water project planning requires an integrated approach that can balance the various benefits and costs of a project, while reducing the possibility that attempts to solve problems in part of the system will cause problems in other parts (NRC, 1999a). The merits of an integrated systems approach are endorsed within the Corps, throughout much of the professional water resources community, and by numerous NRC reports (NRC, 1999a, 1999b, 2000, 2001a, 2002a). The panel evaluated the Corps’ experience in performing such analyses in the context of river basins and coastal systems and sought to identify changes in Corps regulations, guidance, and procedures that can help it achieve this expanded planning mission. Toward Improved Integrated Water Planning An ideal environment for fully integrated water project planning that addresses social, economic, and environmental objectives at all relevant spatial and temporal scales would require a substantial amount of advance investigation and planning at the scale of river basins and coastal systems.

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River Basins and Coastal Systems Planning within the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Given adequate time, funding, and authority, such a process could presumably define and evaluate the many trade-offs among competing objectives at large scales of space and time, leading to clear planning guidance at the project scale. Water policy in the United States, however, is following a trajectory away from such central, master plans. Typical Corps water projects are required to have a local sponsor who often advocates a specific project to address a well-defined local need. The sponsor may be unwilling or unable to support the effort required to evaluate the project’s role within a broader watershed or coastal system. Although any proposed project must face a complex web of regulatory requirements, conflicting stakeholder interests, and potential legal challenges that serve to communicate some of the broader goals that have been enunciated for our nation’s waterways, this process is neither thorough nor efficient. In this context, general policy statements endorsing integrated water systems planning, a watershed approach, and ecosystem restoration may provide little immediate practical assistance for a harried Corps project manager, regardless of his or her inclination to conduct such studies. Current barriers to more effective and consistent implementation of integrated systems planning tend to reflect the limitations of the existing decision-making framework and the presence of conflicting pressures on project planners rather than any unwillingness by the Corps to change. Constraints Imposed by the Current Project Planning Environment Congress approves and appropriates funding for the planning and construction of water resource projects. The Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 1986 (P.L. 104-303) significantly modified project planning by introducing equal cost-sharing between a local sponsor and congressionally authorized Corps funding. This arrangement has given local sponsors and their congressional delegations a greater role in project selection, design, and most importantly, scope. While this involvement may have made the Corps more responsive to local needs, it has also led to a project-by-project focus or piecemeal approach to water resources development by the Corps. Such an approach can work directly against broader-scale evaluations of water resources and ecosystem needs, with the possibility that undesired impacts and more desirable or equitable projects at a broader scale are missed. Based on recent history, revisions to the planning process introduced by the WRDA 1986 have not eliminated approval of projects with strong local support but widespread criticism on broader economic and environmental grounds.

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River Basins and Coastal Systems Planning within the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Efforts to carry out integrated water resources system planning are made more difficult by the complex and conflicting mix of legislation, administrative rulings, and legal precedent that operates as our nation’s water policy. River basins and coastal systems typically fall into multiple local and state jurisdictions, and there is no institutional instrument to set policy at a river basin or coastal system level within which large and small water resources projects can be developed and evaluated. When given the necessary authority and funding (typically following a high-visibility event such as a flood, the listing of endangered species such as the salmon, or the degradation of valued ecosystems such as Chesapeake Bay or the Everglades), the Corps has demonstrated some capacity to carry out multi-stakeholder, multi-objective planning projects that incorporate a diverse range of economic and environmental issues over the necessary spatial and temporal scales. Yet the lack of consistent federal policy guidance and coordinated authority and funding for water resources planning and management has hampered the Corps’ ability to consistently plan water resources projects within a broader and integrated systems context. Water Project Planning Procedures and Analyses Fully integrated water resource planning and management requires effective guidance to determine appropriate time and space scales of evaluation and to evaluate noncommensurate objectives. Sufficient guidance on integrated planning is not found in current Corps documents, particularly regarding a balanced evaluation of the full suite of social, environmental, and economic objectives inherent in river basin and coastal systems planning and in identifying the appropriate spatial and temporal scales to analyze this diverse range of project objectives. Existing guidance is thorough on traditional benefit-cost analysis, but the heavy reliance on this particular analytical method must be modified in the context of multi-objective, multi-stakeholder integrated studies. Corps planning guidance has not been substantially revised for 20 years and should be updated to provide sufficient and balanced information on how to conduct integrated water systems planning within river basins and coastal systems. Recommendation: The Corps’ planning guidance should be modified to provide Corps planners with contemporary analytical techniques necessary for integrated systems planning on large scales within river basin and coastal systems. Guidelines for identifying all relevant

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River Basins and Coastal Systems Planning within the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers factors affected by a water project and their spatial and temporal scales, and standards for a balanced evaluation of economic, social, and environmental factors, should be updated and expanded to a level of detail comparable to current standards for traditional benefit-cost analysis of economic objectives of a project (see Recommendations 4-2 and 4-3 in Chapter 4 for more detail). Project Scoping and Cost Sharing The local cost-sharing requirement implemented by the WRDA 1986 has affected the Corps in positive and predictable ways and in unanticipated ways as well. Whereas cost-sharing has eliminated a significant number of marginal projects, one major effect has been to limit the scope of project planning studies. The first priority of local sponsors is to ensure adequate monies for addressing the local problem; they may have little interest, authority, or ability to support integrated studies over broader regions (e.g., supporters of a local flood control project may be unable or unwilling to support a regional study of all flood control projects in the same watershed). In contrast, it is clearly a federal interest to evaluate how the project might fit into the broader river basin and coastal system context, in order to identify projects that may prove more beneficial and to identify potential upstream and downstream impacts. Corps planning studies occur in two phases: an initial reconnaissance study and a subsequent, more detailed feasibility study. Federal support of integrated planning must occur in both phases of the planning process. In the reconnaissance phase (currently 100 percent federally funded), an integrated analysis provides the necessary evaluation of all appropriate benefits and costs at all relevant scales of space and time. Advances in information and decision support technology can support studies of considerable breadth within the reconnaissance study framework. In the feasibility phase, the portions of the study concerned with a broader evaluation of benefits and costs throughout river basins and coastal systems should be federally funded, while preserving the existing 50 percent cost-sharing for those portions of the project directly concerned with project development, including design, land acquisition, and construction. The requirements for initiating a feasibility study, which currently include a project study plan and a cost-sharing agreement with the local sponsor, should be amended to include the definition of those portions of the feasibility study that constitute integrated river basin or coastal system evaluation and therefore would be federally funded.

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River Basins and Coastal Systems Planning within the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Recommendation 5-2: The Corps should ensure that all reconnaissance studies include an integrated evaluation of all project benefits and impacts at any relevant spatial and temporal scale, leading to a definition of the scope and budget of integrated river basin or coastal system analyses required in a feasibility study. Cost-share requirements for feasibility studies should be amended to provide 100 percent federal funding for an integrated evaluation of project benefits and costs at all relevant temporal and spatial scales. Recommendation 5-3: The scope and budget for integrated planning studies should be determined in the reconnaissance phase and explicitly defined in the project study plan and cost-sharing agreement that define the scope and financial responsibilities of the feasibility study. Approval of a feasibility study should be contingent on a judgment, informed by appropriate internal and external review, that a study plan of the salient social, economic, and environmental factors, at all relevant spatial and temporal scales, has been defined. Environmental Stewardship The potential of the Corps to alter the structure and functioning of the nation’s ecosystems is significant. As a result, the Corps has a public responsibility to serve as an environmental steward by reducing the environmental risks of its projects and protecting ecosystems against unnecessary and unintended project consequences. The Corps acknowledges that it can make positive contributions to the nation’s environment and that it can also irreversibly damage the natural environment. The Corps and other federal agencies have been charged with fostering an “ecosystem approach” that seeks to integrate social and economic goals with the restoration and preservation of natural ecosystems. Simply minimizing harm to the environment is, therefore, no longer sufficient. The Corps should endeavor to improve environmental quality in all of its projects (not just its restoration projects). Potential impacts should take into account not only the spatial scales over which cumulative impacts could occur, but also the time frame over which they might occur. Recommendation 3-1: The Corps should ensure that all project plans include an assessment of how the project fulfills the Corps’ commitment to environmental stewardship. The cumulative effects of each project, together with other past and future human activities in

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River Basins and Coastal Systems Planning within the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers the same river basin or coastal system, should be consistently evaluated for all projects. Project Evaluations and Adaptive Management Uncertainty is an inherent part of the management of all natural systems and its consequences are particularly obvious when ecological outcomes are added to the list of project objectives. The inherent uncertainty in complex and heterogeneous natural systems increases significantly with increasing areal extent. To accomplish resource planning and management in the face of such uncertainty, the concept of adaptive management has gained increased acceptance by the Corps and other land resources agencies. As pointed out in the recent NRC report Adaptive Management for Water Resources Project Planning (NRC, 2004a), successful implementation of adaptive management will require resources to support its various components, including monitoring and related science programs, support staff, and stakeholder participation. That report concluded that Congress should support adaptive management within the Corps by providing a consistent level of funding and personnel resources that will allow for the execution of a long-term program. In particular, Congress should broadly authorize and appropriate resources to promote ecosystem and economic monitoring and ex post evaluations of Corps projects. Determining project success and identifying unsuccessful project components are essential parts of the learning process that can improve the planning and design of future projects. This is particularly true of projects involving large, complex river basins and coastal systems. Although evaluations typically occur at the end of a project, complex projects with higher levels of uncertainty can benefit from ongoing assessments throughout the life of the project. Results of these assessments could be used to adaptively manage the project and inform changes in the project’s design. Consequently, the panel strongly endorses the findings reported in Adaptive Management for Water Resources Project Planning (NRC, 2004a) and Analytical Methods and Approaches for Water Resources Project Planning (NRC, 2004b). The federal government and local sponsors have to accept the necessity of this basic approach to land and water resource projects; evaluating the results of Corps projects is a central component of successful project development, together with improved learning about how the effects of a project cascade through river and coastal systems in both space and time.

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River Basins and Coastal Systems Planning within the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Effective project evaluations require flexibility in the scope of the evaluation (not all projects require an extensive evaluation) and should be explicitly defined, and cost-sharing agreed to, in the feasibility phase. Because the complexity and potential consequences will vary from project to project, the current cost limits on post-project evaluations should be replaced with a flexible system in which the scope, tasks, standards, and costs of post project evaluations are determined on a case-by-case basis, as part of a feasibility study. The decision to move ahead with a project should be contingent on the judgment, informed by appropriate internal and external review, that the post-project evaluation plan is sufficient to document the achievement of project objectives, as well as identifying unintended consequences and undesired cumulative effects associated with the project. Recommendation 5-5: The Corps should ensure that post-project evaluations are a component of all projects and that these evaluations are cost-shared with the local sponsor. The scope, timing, spatial and temporal scale, and funding for these evaluations should be determined during the feasibility study. OTHER INSTITUTIONAL ISSUES Watershed planning requires cooperation with multiple agencies at federal, state, and local levels of government, as well as organized groups of stakeholders. Pre- and post-project monitoring and characterization require efforts similar to those of other federal, state, and local entities charged with resource management and environmental protection. These two points suggest that there is a potential for cost savings if data gathering efforts are collaboratively planned and executed and if the results are shared broadly. The alternative is either a continued lack of adequate information or a significant overlap of effort. The panel received conflicting reports of the Corps’ ability to engage in formal collaboration with other federal agencies. Some speakers reported that interagency collaboration was feasible and even routine. Others reported that the Corps’ funding authorities limit its partnering with other federal agencies, particularly in cases where the Corps is not the lead agency. Review and standardization of procedures are needed for transferring funds and personnel and for developing collaborative memoranda of understanding (MOUs) or memoranda of agreement (MOAs) with other agencies and nongovernmental organiza-tions, particularly when those agencies have controlling authority.

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River Basins and Coastal Systems Planning within the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Recommendation 5-4: Congress and the Executive Branch should take the steps necessary, including a standardized procedure for cooperative agreements and MOUs or MOAs, to ensure that the Corps is able to work effectively in collaborative planning and management. The current state of knowledge is so vast in the water resources area that it can be difficult for one agency to harbor the full range of scientific, engineering, and socioeconomic skills that might be required on a particular project. At the same time, the Corps, like other federal agencies, is currently losing significant parts of its institutional and core competency to retirement. As the water resources planning environment becomes more complex and diverse, the Corps must seek to find a useful balance of in-house and outside expertise. The Corps will have to recruit and train its employees in fields in which they currently lack sufficient expertise. The Corps has reemphasized water resources planning as a key area of expertise and has instituted training initiatives that are vitally important. These initiatives should be consistently supported to provide effective in-house capabilities and incentives for the retention of strong employees. At the same time, the Corps should take advantage of outside scientists and engineers who can bring specialized knowledge or a detailed understanding of the project area. Recommendation 5-6: The Corps should undertake an effort to review current staffing practices and, if necessary, expand these practices to maintain a well-trained in-house staff and to employ the services of outside scientists and engineers who can bring specialized knowledge or a detailed understanding of the project area. LOOKING AHEAD An ideal water planning environment—or even a reasonably good one—will require the support and cooperation of Congress, the executive branch, and the American people and will take time to develop. Although general policy guidance mandating watershed, regional, and ecosystem analysis is clear and publicly supported by current Corps leadership, political support for true watershed or coastal systems planning has been neither consistent nor unanimous. Changes in planning guidance and institutional procedures of the Corps can allow it to effectively and consistently perform integrated water resources planning and environmental stewardship in a river basin and coastal systems context. Effective changes

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River Basins and Coastal Systems Planning within the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers need not require wholesale—and politically controversial—changes in the Corps’ organization or in its relations with local clients and federal sponsors.

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River Basins and Coastal Systems Planning within the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers