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Corps of Engineers Missions, Projects, and Planning

INTRODUCTION

For nearly two centuries, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has planned and constructed much of the nation’s civil works projects for navigation enhancement, flood damage reduction, and more recently, ecosystem restoration. As the nation’s water resources needs and preferences have shifted, the Corps’ mission has become more complex. For example, in the early twentieth century, the Corps focused largely on constructing channels and harbors, locks, and dams. By contrast, at the close of the twentieth century, the Corps was operating in a more complex legal context (including the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act, the 1973 Endangered Species Act, and various Clean Water Acts), was addressing a broader range of water-related needs such as recreation, and had assumed a new environmental restoration mission.

As the Corps’ mission has evolved, the methods and techniques used in its project planning have become more sophisticated and more detailed. Corps of Engineers planning studies today often include economic models, long-range economic demand forecasts, and assessments of environmental impacts and benefits. In addition to analytical challenges posed by integrating economic, engineering, and environmental theories and methods, the Corps is striving to respond to input from stakeholder groups that may not be consistent with scientific principles or with the agency’s planning procedures. Moreover, many Corps planning decisions today do not focus on a traditional emphasis of new civil works construction, but rather on operations of existing projects, which frequently entails the very different task of resolving resource trade-offs among competing interest groups.

Although its planning methods have often been subject to criticism, challenges to the Corps were especially pointed and prominent during the late 1990s and were perhaps best embodied by the close inspection of the Corps draft feasibility study of the Upper Mississippi River-Illinois Wa-



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Analytical Methods and Approaches for Water Resources Project Planning 1 Corps of Engineers Missions, Projects, and Planning INTRODUCTION For nearly two centuries, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has planned and constructed much of the nation’s civil works projects for navigation enhancement, flood damage reduction, and more recently, ecosystem restoration. As the nation’s water resources needs and preferences have shifted, the Corps’ mission has become more complex. For example, in the early twentieth century, the Corps focused largely on constructing channels and harbors, locks, and dams. By contrast, at the close of the twentieth century, the Corps was operating in a more complex legal context (including the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act, the 1973 Endangered Species Act, and various Clean Water Acts), was addressing a broader range of water-related needs such as recreation, and had assumed a new environmental restoration mission. As the Corps’ mission has evolved, the methods and techniques used in its project planning have become more sophisticated and more detailed. Corps of Engineers planning studies today often include economic models, long-range economic demand forecasts, and assessments of environmental impacts and benefits. In addition to analytical challenges posed by integrating economic, engineering, and environmental theories and methods, the Corps is striving to respond to input from stakeholder groups that may not be consistent with scientific principles or with the agency’s planning procedures. Moreover, many Corps planning decisions today do not focus on a traditional emphasis of new civil works construction, but rather on operations of existing projects, which frequently entails the very different task of resolving resource trade-offs among competing interest groups. Although its planning methods have often been subject to criticism, challenges to the Corps were especially pointed and prominent during the late 1990s and were perhaps best embodied by the close inspection of the Corps draft feasibility study of the Upper Mississippi River-Illinois Wa-

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Analytical Methods and Approaches for Water Resources Project Planning terway (UMR-IWW). The economic analysis and modeling conducted by the Corps came under such intense scrutiny that early in 2000 the U.S. Department of Defense requested the National Academies’ National Research Council (NRC)1 to appoint a committee to review the economics components of the draft study (see NRC, 2001). In addition to challenges from outside the agency, the Corps is also in the midst of substantial internal changes, as the agency announced a major reorganization plan (“USACE 2012”) in October 2003. The reorganization is intended to change the internal workings of Corps Headquarters and its regional elements and to promote a more business-like approach in order to streamline internal processes (http://www.hq.usace.army.mil/stakeholders/; accessed February 7, 2004). Controversies and challenges surrounding the Corps’ analytical techniques are far from resolved, however, and the U.S. Congress (along with many other groups and individuals) continues to debate the appropriate future vision of the nation’s river and coastal systems and appropriate future roles for the Corps of Engineers. As part of this debate, in Section 216 of the Water Resources Development Act of 2000 (WRDA 2000), the U.S. Congress requested that the National Academies study the Corps’ review procedures and its methods of analysis (Section 216 of the WRDA 2000 can be found in Appendix A). In response to this congressional mandate, the Academies’ National Research Council appointed four study panels and a coordinating committee. The first panel on review procedures completed its report in 2002 (NRC, 2002b). The other three panels assessed various aspects of Corps planning: project planning, river basin and coastal systems planning, and adaptive management. The coordinating committee tracked progress and promoted dialogue among the four study panels and also produced its own report. The studies were organized under the auspices of the NRC’s Water Science and Technology Board, in collaboration with the Ocean Studies Board, and with input from the Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology and the Transportation Research Board. The panels shared their thoughts and progress through different channels: chairs of each of the study panels were members of the coordinating committee; all panels and the coordinating committee were represented in a working session held in Irvine, California in November 2002; and panel and coordinating committee members attended meetings of panels of which they were not members. Each report from the panels 1   The National Academies consists of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The National Research Council is the operating arm of The National Academies.

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Analytical Methods and Approaches for Water Resources Project Planning and the coordinating committee stands as an independent study (each of which was subjected to standard NRC review procedures), as well as part of this larger group of “216 studies.” This is the report of the Panel on Methods and Techniques of Project Analysis, which was charged to examine and make recommendations for improving Corps planning methods for specific projects (as opposed to planning methods for river basins or coastal systems). Box 1-1 contains the panel’s charge. CORPS OF ENGINEERS PROJECT PLANNING METHODS AND GUIDANCE Corps of Engineers planning studies are guided by many sources. The two most important are the 1983 federal Economic and Environmental Principles and Guidelines for Water and Related Land Resources Implementation Studies (also known as the Principles and Guidelines, or BOX 1-1 Charge to the Panel on Methods of Project Analysis This panel will review the Corps’ project formulation and evaluation techniques and methods, including the use of models for project-specific applications (i.e., benefits, costs, optimization, etc.), with a view toward developing and refining planning methods to better serve the nation. As appropriate, the panel should also consider the methods, techniques, and practices employed by other federal agencies, states, and the private sector in the development of the projects. The panel will also consider the need for system-wide considerations in project-specific planning and other state-of-the-art methods. The need to modernize and/or better implement the Corps methods and other techniques will be evaluated in the context of the current federal Principles and Guidelines (P&G). In addition, the panel will examine the interpretation of the P&G as reflected in Corps guidance such as ER [Engineering Regulation] 1105-2-100. This panel will also perform an ex post analysis of a sample of Corps projects (including major project purposes) based on 1) the methods used by the Corps and 2) state-of-the-art methods. As appropriate, the panel will make recommendations for improving Corps methods and techniques and may make recommendations regarding areas of the P&G in need of modernization.

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Analytical Methods and Approaches for Water Resources Project Planning simply P&G; WRC, 1983), and the Corps’ Planning Guidance Notebook (PGN), known as Engineering Regulation (ER) 1105-2-100 (USACE, 2000). The two-page “principles” of the P&G aim to ensure “proper and consistent planning by Federal agencies in the formulation and evaluation of water and related land resources implementation studies” (WRC, 1983, p. iv). The “guidelines” consist of more than 100 pages and multiple appendixes of instructions for conducting planning studies for a range of water sectors (e.g., urban flooding, deep-draft navigation, recreation). The P&G replaced a planning document familiarly known as the “Principles and Standards,” which was also approved by the federal Water Resources Council (WRC, 1973). A critical difference between the documents is that the Principles and Standards constituted planning requirements, whereas the Principles and Guidelines serves as recommended guidance with no legal force. In addition to the P&G, the Corps’ Planning Guidance Notebook includes and builds on the Principles and Guidelines and provides additional guidance on implementing the P&G. The Corps of Engineers conducts its planning studies in two stages: a reconnaissance stage and a feasibility stage. The reconnaissance stage is conducted to determine if a federal interest exists in a given water resources problem or opportunity. If a federal interest is determined to exist,2 a feasibility study is then conducted. According to the Principles and Guidelines, feasibility studies must identify the national economic development (NED) alternative. This is the planning alternative that reasonably maximizes net national economic benefits, consistent with the federal objective of, as specified in the P&G principles, “protecting the Nation’s environment, pursuant to national environmental statutes, applicable executive orders, and other Federal planning statutes” (WRC, 1983). Other alternatives may also be identified, but the NED alternative is the only alternative required by the P&G. The NED alternative may ultimately not be the alternative selected because a community or local sponsor may select a different plan. If a community implements a plan that goes beyond NED however, such as constructing a levee higher than the NED-recommended levee, that community is responsible for some or all of the additional costs. Several Corps feasibility studies were reviewed during the course of this study, and several panel members spoke with Corps of Engineers planners and analysts. Sites of planning studies that were investigated 2   The large majority of reconnaissance studies—approximately six of seven—conclude that a federal interest in the water resources issue at hand does not exist.

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Analytical Methods and Approaches for Water Resources Project Planning during the course of this study were Egg Harbor, New Jersey; Galveston, Texas; Oregon Inlet, North Carolina; St. Paul, Minnesota, and Wilmington, North Carolina. Observations gained in the review of these studies, plus panelists’ knowledge of other planning studies, revealed both similarities and differences across Corps planning studies, fundamental assumptions, models employed, and Corps district offices. Given the variations in water resources problems across the nation, differences in approaches and techniques employed are to be expected. A limited degree of standardization within these detailed analytical methods, however, makes it difficult to draw agency-wide conclusions regarding Corps planning methods, models, or approaches. Moreover, the Corps of Engineers recognizes and uses few models universally in all of its district offices. More detailed investigations of this range of planning studies were beyond the resources and the time constraints of this study, but knowledge gained in these reviews was used to supplement and support the report’s broader findings and recommendations, as appropriate, as they relate to the planning guidance within the P&G and the PGN (Chapter 3 also refers to other Corps projects and planning studies to help illustrate the broader issues raised therein). CORPS OF ENGINEERS MISSIONS: HISTORICAL, CONTEMPORARY, FUTURE The Corps of Engineers’ traditional missions have been to reduce flood damage and to enhance navigation on the nation’s inland waterways and in its ports. These missions were often carried out via the civil engineering activities and structures for which the Corps is well known: damming of rivers and creation of navigation pools and storage reservoirs, construction of dikes and levees in floodplain and other low-lying areas, beach protection projects in coastal areas, and the dredging of ports and rivers. These projects and activities are still requested by the nation’s citizens and elected leaders, and they remain an important part of the Corps’ work program. The extent of the Corps’ involvement in these traditional areas, however, has diminished for several reasons: most of the best dam sites have been dammed; concerns regarding environmental impacts of these projects; a substantial decrease in the Corps’ civil works budget since the mid-1960s (more than 50 percent; USACE, 2001a); and an increasing demand for nontraditional activities, primarily ecosystem restoration.

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Analytical Methods and Approaches for Water Resources Project Planning The trend of the Corps building fewer new civil works projects is likely to continue. This is not to say that the Corps’ importance to national water management will diminish. The Corps will retain responsibility for maintaining and operating a massive, multibillion dollar infrastructure that controls hydrologic and related processes in many of the nation’s river and coastal systems (e.g., the Missouri River dam and reservoir system). Another relevant trend is that stakeholder groups today request a greater voice in decision making than in the past. Interest groups and citizens alike are today also less likely to trust the Corps’ professional judgment and analyses than in the past. Corps of Engineers planning studies today often attract much interest and may be carefully scrutinized. The Corps is aware of this and typically hosts public meetings and other events to solicit public input on the agency’s highly visible planning studies. Changes in budgetary constraints and congressional priorities, changes in philosophies of successive administrations, shifts in social preferences, and changing planning paradigms have converged to create a dynamic setting for the Corps’ civil works program. REPORT OVERVIEW Following this introductory chapter, Chapter 2 provides a review of the structure and evolution of federal water management organizations and policies. Chapter 3 focuses on economic theories and approaches within the Principles and Guidelines. Chapter 4 discusses the Corps’ efforts to promote public participation and input in planning studies. Chapter 5 reviews the engineering models used by the Corps. Chapter 6 discusses and provides the panel’s recommendations; in doing so, it draws on previous chapters of this report. Chapter 7 is the concluding chapter and provides a brief epilogue of Corps of Engineers planning studies, guidance, and methods.