management in the United States is mixed, and its prospects in the current fiscal and political climate are not strong. Nonetheless, the panel has identified interim, largely internal, steps that can be taken, although falling well short of comprehensive water systems planning. The actions proposed in this report would represent significant improvements within the Corps’ planning environment that would raise Corps planning studies closer to the standards of integration and environmental stewardship articulated by federal regulations and Corps leadership.
Effective integrated water resources planning at the scale of river basins and coastal systems requires a clear mandate, consistent guidance and standards, and capable staff who are given the opportunity to evaluate all relevant aspects of a water project with adequate data, current tools, and necessary collaboration. The panel finds that policy guidance from Corps leadership is now quite clear regarding the need to pursue planning and regulatory activities in an integrated fashion, and that many on the Corps’ planning and technical staff are motivated to carry out this mandate. At the same time, full and consistent implementation of this approach takes time and faces a variety of barriers. To provide a clear general direction, more complete and balanced guidance is needed regarding integrated planning, particularly in the evaluation of environmental, social, and economic costs and benefits and the identification of appropriate spatial and temporal scales at which different aspects of water projects must be evaluated. The Corps has identified serious and growing gaps in knowledge and capabilities and is taking steps to expand or reinstate training opportunities for its staff. These steps are essential and can help improve staff recruiting and retention, but more widespread use of outside expertise is also needed to complement in-house analytical capabilities in this increasingly complex planning environment. Beyond building analytical capabilities and lowering barriers to collaboration with other agencies, stakeholders, and outside experts, the most important step that can be taken to facilitate widespread implementation of integrated water resources planning is to promulgate clear standards requiring such an approach. If a clearly articulated and externally reviewed study plan of the salient social, economic, and environmental factors, at the appropriate spatial and temporal scales, is required to proceed to a feasibility study, and if a monitoring plan identifying key system properties that indicate project success is required to proceed to project implementation, project managers will have a clearer opportunity to implement existing Corps guidelines in the planning and evaluation of individual projects.