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River Basins and Coastal Systems Planning within the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 1 Introduction When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe. —John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra, 1911 WATER RESOURCES SYSTEMS PLANNING AND MANAGEMENT IN THE U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS Much of the nation’s water resource infrastructure was put in place by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps). The Corps’ historic mission has been to plan and construct projects with well-defined economic benefits, such as levees, dams, dredged channels and ports, and beach protection. The environment in which the Corps now operates is considerably different and its mandate has changed over the past three decades. The nation has significantly increased its expectation for diverse benefits (at a minimal cost) from public works projects of all types. Water resource projects are discussed and planned in a diverse setting in which authority is dispersed among federal, state, and local governments. Stakeholder groups representing a wide range of interests are being given increasing influence in project planning and approval efforts. Environmental restoration and environmental mitigation now constitute a large and increasing portion of
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River Basins and Coastal Systems Planning within the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers the Corps’ work, making the suite of objectives that must be considered larger and more diverse. These changes are most vividly evident in the context of earlier Corps projects, such as the Missouri River dam and levee system and the Kissimee River restoration, which are now being modified or removed to satisfy a broader suite of objectives than those for which they were originally designed. Increases in the number and complexity of project objectives, and the diverse regulatory and jurisdictional settings in which Corps projects occur, have increased the complexity of project planning and management. Today there is less public and congressional support for large water projects and increased support for smaller projects and aquatic system restoration. There can be a tension between the construction of smaller water projects and the broader goals of ecosystem restoration and integrated basin planning, which can require evaluation of a range of factors over large scales of space and time that exceed those historically associated with the development of a small water project. The complexity of modern water resources problems and increasing recognition that the impacts of a water project may extend well beyond its immediate boundaries emphasize that effective water resources planning and management require an integrated approach, an approach able to account for a wide range of objectives and consider a wide range of temporal and spatial scales. Integrated and system-wide water resources project planning in the United States has always suffered from a mismatch between the nature of physically (and naturally) defined watersheds (where the boundary follows a topographic divide) and the dimensions of relevant political jurisdictions. A basic problem confronting integrated water resources planning and management in river basins and coastal systems has been that these are based on scientific, rather than legal concepts. As a result, it can be difficult to achieve integrated objectives through the existing legal and policy framework in which the Corps operates. Thus, efforts to accomplish large-scale, integrated planning at the river basin and coastal system scale must be superimposed on an existing statutory structure and history that often frustrates such efforts. Further, watershed protection efforts must overcome fragmented, incomplete, and shared regulatory frameworks that exist throughout the three levels of government as well as in the existing allocation of water and land entitlements. Efforts to transcend political and institutional boundaries in developing a rational integrated approach to water resources planning have a long history with mixed success. The concept of integrated river basin development, which arose in the early twentieth century, was intended to
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River Basins and Coastal Systems Planning within the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers tame, utilize, and protect against the dangers of natural hydrologic variability. Water management organizations, defined by hydrologic boundaries, would employ information from fields as diverse as hydrology and economics to rationalize project choices. In the River and Harbor Act of 1927 (44 Stat. 1010), Congress authorized the Corps to undertake comprehensive surveys to formulate general plans for the most effective improvement of navigable rivers and their tributaries. These surveys came to be called “308 reports,” after House Document Number 308, and represent the nation’s first comprehensive river basin plans (NRC, 1999b). Ultimately, the ideal of developing a river basin authority similar to the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) on all the nation’s major rivers was not accepted by Congress and the states. Nonetheless, as more complex projects were contemplated, design requirements eventually stimulated the idea of rational, integrated planning and culminated in the robust period of dam building that followed World War II. Modern water resources planning developed rapidly in the 1950s and 1960s in association with the construction of new dams and other water resources projects. Engineers dominated the emerging discipline of water resources planning as it became an important academic subject (Maass et al., 1962). In 1955, the Rockefeller Foundation funded the Harvard Water Program, a joint water resource system design seminar for graduate students and government personnel, and the Corps provided support for the program from 1961 to 1965 (Hufschmidt, 1966). More importantly, the idea of an optimum mix of technically supportable projects within one river basin formed an important component of the Corps’ culture. In 1965 Congress passed the Water Resources Planning Act (WRPA) (79 Stat. 245), the high-water mark of federal commitment to integrated, rational water resources planning. This act attempted to centralize federal water resources planning and policy formulation and created a three-part planning approach to national water resources management, to be administered by the U.S. Water Resources Council (WRC) and regional river basin commissions. Water projects were to follow evaluation practices set forth by the WRC. During its tenure, the WRC completed two national water assessments (termed “level A” planning). The WRC also formed river basin commissions and made efforts to develop (but never issued) guidelines for large-scale watershed planning. The principal legacy of the WRC is the creation of the Principles and Standards for Planning Water and Related Land Resources (otherwise known as the Principles and Standards or P&S) for planning specific “level C” water and related land resources projects (38 Fed. Reg. 24,778-24869, September 10, 1973).
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River Basins and Coastal Systems Planning within the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers In the P&S, the WRC endorsed the creation of a new type of federally chartered river basin corporation that would have planning, construction, and regulatory functions, further supporting the principle that the river basin is the correct management unit for integrated, rational water planning. The WRC also called for careful review of all federal water projects, especially interbasin transfers, and for the creation of “an independent review board …to keep a check on the project evaluation biases of the Federal construction agencies” (38 Fed. Reg. 24,778-24869, September 10, 1973). In September 1982, the WRC voted to repeal the existing principles, standards, and procedures (18 CFR, Parts 711, 713, 714, and 716). These were replaced by a new guidance document the Economic and Environmental Principles and Guidelines for Water and Related Land Resources Implementation Studies, commonly called the Principles and Guidelines or P&G, which was approved by President Reagan in 1983 (WRC, 1983). After replacing the P&S with the P&G, the WRC was disbanded by executive order in 1982 and some of its functions were transferred to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The P&G text was also moved from the “Rules” section of the Federal Register to the “Notices” section, thus downgrading this text from legally required rules for planning, as was the case with the P&S, to simply guidelines for planning. Today, integrated river basin planning exists in a more diffuse and ad hoc form, often driven by concerns with environmental restoration. Construction projects continue to have a role in this vision, but they are more likely—as Corps budget figures show—to involve the restoration of degraded aquatic ecosystems. In addition, any project proposed tends to be more contentious than in the past because many more stakeholders claim a role in deciding the future of a watershed and its landscape. The early idea of rational, comprehensive river basin planning and development was primarily a dialogue between expert hydrologists and engineers. Today, this model has been replaced by a more grassroots, stakeholder participation model of watershed governance. As river basin planning moves ahead and the number of stakeholders in Corps projects increases, no one level of government has been able to effectively mediate these multiplying competing interests. In this diverse, multi-stakeholder environment, the Corps’ efforts to promote integrated water resources planning increasingly encounter legal and jurisdictional factors over which it has little control. Land and water laws fragment the watershed landscape into discrete parts. Water rights laws and claims by private users further complicate matters and can lead to the removal of water from the watershed for consumptive use (drinking water and agricultural irrigation). Land law and land-use rights rest initially
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River Basins and Coastal Systems Planning within the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with private or public landowners, but any land uses that impair water quality or biodiversity are increasingly regulated by government. Water quality laws and regulations remain concentrated at the federal government level with allowances for stricter state or local standards. Any direct federal role in land-use planning beyond grants and the management of public lands has been fiercely resisted. Not only does the Corps lack control over land uses that impact its watershed activities, but it also does not have control over water rights, which reside with the states. Congress has the power to preempt state law, but this power is seldom invoked. The Corps must work within state water laws except in the relatively rare cases where state law conflicts with its core navigation enhancement and flood control missions. The Corps’ role in water resources planning and management in river basins and coastal systems has become increasingly varied and complex, especially when compared to the era in which much of the nation’s water resource infrastructure was built. In the future, the Corps may be required to modify existing facilities in response to actions under the Endangered Species Act and may find that these conflict with its obligations to provide navigation, as was the case in the summer of 2003 on the Missouri River. The Corps may be called on to assist or coordinate efforts at local and state levels to promote watershed restoration. In some cases, it may have to provide technical advice in a supporting role, by virtue of its control of a river’s plumbing (e.g., the Missouri River); in other cases, it may act as the lead agency in proposing new basin-wide options. In all instances, incorporating an integrated approach to water resources planning and management would better address diverse and competing objectives, promote the federal interest in environmental stewardship, and balance competing interests. ONGOING AND RECENT EFFORTS BY THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES TO ADVISE THE NATION REGARDING WATER RESOURCES PLANNING Controversies and challenges surrounding the Corps’ analytical techniques continue. Debate by the U.S. Congress (and many other groups and individuals) continues regarding the appropriate vision of the nation’s river and coastal systems and the appropriate role of the Corps. As part of this debate, the U.S. Congress requested the National Academies to study the Corps’ review procedures and its methods of analysis (in Section 216 of
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River Basins and Coastal Systems Planning within the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers the Water Resources Development Act [WRDA] of 2000 [P.L. 106-541, 106th Congress]; see Appendix C for text of Section 216). In response to this congressional mandate, the National Academies’ National Research Council (NRC) appointed four study panels and a coordinating committee to perform these reviews. These panels considered different dimensions of Corps planning (peer review; analytical and planning methods; river basins and coastal systems; adaptive management). The chairs of the four study panels were all members of the coordinating committee, which helped the committee to follow discussions within and among the study panels. Each panel operated independently and in accord with NRC guidelines. The coordinating committee issued its own report, which was also subject to standard NRC 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. SCOPE OF THIS STUDY AND ORGANIZATION OF THE REPORT The Panel on River Basin and Coastal Systems Planning Panel is one of four study panels charged with reviewing the Corps’ analytical approaches and methods for implementing water resources projects. As defined in the Water Resources and Development Act 2000, this includes projects for "navigation, flood control, hurricane and storm damage reduction, emergency stream bank and shore protection, ecosystem restoration and protection, or any other water resources project carried out by the Corps." The specific statement of task for this panel, as stated earlier in Box ES-1, follows: 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
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River Basins and Coastal Systems Planning within the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers integration of water development plans with other projects in the region. Stated broadly, this panel’s objective is to evaluate the Corps’ efforts in water project planning within the context of river basin and coastal systems and its use of an integrated systems approach to planning within these systems. Although there are various definitions of a systems approach in the context of water resources, the essential function of a systems approach is to provide an organized framework that supports a balanced evaluation of all relevant issues (e.g., hydrologic, geomorphic, ecologic, social, economic) at appropriate scales of space and time. Within a systems framework, multiple stressors can be identified and quantified, multiple goals can be investigated, trade-offs among competing objectives can be evaluated, potential unintended consequences can be identified, and the true costs and benefits of a project can be examined in a context that incorporates the interests of all those with any substantial stake. Systems analyses in one form or another have been a part of Corps planning procedures for most of the previous century, although the elements included in the analysis and the methods used to support the analysis have changed in response to shifting public values and advancing science and technology. The merits of a systems approach are broadly endorsed, within the Corps, throughout the water resources community, and in several NRC reports (NRC, 1999a, 1999b, 2000, 2001a). A systems framework supports a balanced consideration of all relevant aspects of water resources problems at all relevant time and space scales. Without this, it is not possible to confidently choose the most favorable solution to a water problem; to identify the unintended consequences of a water project; or to reliably project the long-term consequences of following a specific course of action. Systems analyses are inherently multi-scale. The appropriate spatial and temporal scale is not the same for all projects. Further, a range of scales must often be considered in planning individual projects, depending on the questions asked. For example, the physical design of an urban stream restoration may be based largely on local factors, although the motivation for the project may be derived in large part from regional considerations regarding the yield of sediment and nutrients from the watershed. Similarly, the specific design of a flood mitigation project may depend primarily on local conditions of flow and runoff, although the impact of the project may have to be evaluated in terms of the cumulative effect of all projects in the river basin.
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River Basins and Coastal Systems Planning within the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Systems analyses are also inherently multi-disciplinary. Social and economic values play a clear role in determining the benefits and costs of water projects and in evaluating alternatives. The merits of a water supply project cannot be evaluated adequately without consideration of alternatives to increased water storage, such as conservation measures or developing an interconnected, coordinated, and often cross-jurisdictional regional supply system. The merits of a navigation project cannot be evaluated without forecasting future demand for the waterway and considering the relative merits of alternative forms of transportation. The social and economic benefits and costs of water projects have long been a standard part of the Corps’ planning procedures, and specific guidelines for such analyses are part of the Corps’ planning portfolio. The existence of these guidelines does not ensure that these evaluations are always judged a success by all interested parties. Political, financial, and provincial factors can exert pressures on decisions made regarding the appropriate scale of analysis, as well as on the costs and benefits assigned. Over the past three decades the value of the natural environment has played an increasing role in the definition and evaluation of Corps projects, such that the range of disciplines included in water planning has been adjusted to place environmental sciences on an equal and sometimes dominant level. Environmental restoration has become a primary objective—if not the sole objective—of many Corps projects. Although general guidance can be found regarding the need to evaluate the environmental impacts or benefits of a project, guidelines for environmental evaluation lack the specificity of those for determining the economic benefits and costs of a project. Useful information regarding the environmental aspects of projects—particularly the ecological implications of project alternatives—is more difficult to define and more diffuse relative to the economic benefits of a project. Effective trade-offs between environmental and economic benefits and costs remain a difficult, contentious, and unsolved problem. Environmental restoration and environmental mitigation of existing and new projects will likely continue to grow in importance and will magnify the need for effective, integrated planning within river basins and coastal systems. Human activities that alter the function of various systems are not limited to activities planned and implemented by the Corps. State and local projects and land-use practices can have a significant impact on watersheds and coastal systems and on how these systems respond to Corpsimplemented projects. Although it would be difficult to account for all of these activities during project planning, the Corps already has strong ties to many local projects and land-use practice through its regulatory functions.
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River Basins and Coastal Systems Planning within the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers One of these regulatory functions is to issue permits to state and local landuse projects. In 2003, the Corps issued more than 85,000 permits (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 2003a). A fuller accounting of the potential impacts of these permitted activities in any systems analysis may offer greater insight into the cumulative effects of such activities within a given watershed or coastal system and, hence, lead to more effective project design and implementation. A review of systems analysis in Corps water project planning must also consider the context of broader water policy in the United States. A systems-based evaluation of water projects does not occur spontaneously, but arises in response to some kind of social mandate. The scope of the systems analysis—the range of factors considered, the spatial and temporal scales—depends on the value placed on different water resources objectives. The choices made among the inevitably conflicting objectives will require prioritized guidance. U.S. water policy exists in fragments of nonbinding guidance, environmental law, and standard practice. The absence of a coherent policy, or of a body to develop and interpret that policy, hinders the attempts of the Corps and other water management agencies to plan, design, operate, and evaluate water projects within a genuine and effective systems context. Chapter 2 begins by discussing the nature of river basin and coastal systems, focusing on the interconnected nature of these systems and the manner in which Corps water projects alter the system’s behavior. It summarizes the Corps' influence over water resources systems during the past two centuries and reviews the type, scale, and impact of Corps activities. The Corps' dual role as a regulatory agency and as a civil works construction agency is discussed, and several case studies help to illustrate the scope and impacts of the Corps' activities on inland and coastal waters. Chapter 3 focuses on the environmental aspects of Corps projects, because these constitute an increasing portion of Corps activity, compel the need for an integrated approach to water project planning and management, and often dictate the spatial and temporal scales requiring investigation. A variety of issues, including knowledge gaps, environmental uncertainty, and the difficulty of balancing environmental and economic objectives, make environmental restoration and stewardship the most difficult challenge facing the Corps in implementing rational, integrated water project planning, as well as its regulatory programs. The Corps has considerable experience in performing water resources systems planning and has made important contributions to developing integrated water resources planning and management methods. Chapter 4 describes the Corps' current approach to integrating projects within a river
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River Basins and Coastal Systems Planning within the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers basin and coastal system framework, including its governing authorities, methods, and practices. Examples are presented in which an integrated approach to planning and management has been used and barriers to a more consistent application of this approach are identified. Chapter 5 considers a range of issues (knowledge, jurisdictional, institutional, regulatory, funding, guidance, and policy) that present barriers to a more consistent implementation of integrated water resources management in the river basin and coastal system context. Actions or directions to address these issues are proposed.
Representative terms from entire chapter: