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U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Water Resources Planning: A New Opportunity for Service 2 Contemporary Context of National Water Planning For nearly 200 years the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has constructed, operated, and maintained many of the nation’s dams, levees, and navigation channels. These projects have controlled the flows of major rivers, deepened and stabilized navigation channels, and deepened coastal harbors. Corps projects generate hydroelectric power, provide water supply storage, support water-based and coastal recreation opportunities, and help stabilize coastlines. In the past three decades, the Corps water project planning program has broadened in response to environmental concerns and legislation, and today includes environmental protection and aquatic ecosystem restoration. The most publicized of these efforts has been its role in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Program; however, many other smaller and less publicized restoration activities were undertaken during the 1990s. In reflecting on the past, present, and future of the Corps program, there are concerns that the Corps construction budget has not kept pace with expanding national water management needs in flood hazard management, water transportation, and other areas. At the same time, others question the wisdom of continuing a historical emphasis on new water project construction for traditional purposes as a focus for the agency’s contribution to national water management. Debates about national management objectives and priorities and by extension, future roles of the Corps, set the context for the congressional legislation that mandated this evaluation and report on Corps planning processes. THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES’ 216 STUDIES The Executive Office of the President, during both Democratic and Republican administrations, has criticized Corps project analyses and sought to limit the Corps’ mission. Proposals from the administration, in turn, are challenged and sometimes modified by Congress. There are
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U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Water Resources Planning: A New Opportunity for Service divergent views among members of Congress—views which often transcend party lines—about both the quality of the Corps’ analytical methods and findings and the agency’s future roles. Some congressional representatives strongly support the Corps and its traditional programs and activities, while others call for fundamental changes to the agency. Some in Congress have promoted “Corps Reform” initiatives and have drafted multiple legislative reform proposals. Congress has passed none of these proposals, but one result of these congressional debates was the passage of Section 216 of the Water Resources Development Act of 2000. That section requested that the National Academy of Sciences (“The National Academies”1) to review the Corps’ peer review procedures and methods of analysis (section 216 appears in Appendix A). In response to that authorization, the Corps provided the resources for this study. In turn, The National Academies’ Water Science and Technology Board, in collaboration with its Ocean Studies Board, appointed four study panels and a coordinating committee to review various dimensions of Corps planning guidance and decision making (additional discussion of this activity can be found in this report’s Foreword and Preface, and Appendix C lists the coordinating committee and panel membership rosters). The chairs of the four panels served on the coordinating committee, and some coordinating committee members participated in various panel meetings. In addition, a plenary meeting of the coordinating committee and all four panels was held in Irvine, CA in November 2002. The coordinating committee thus prepared this report while also considering progress of the four study panels in its own deliberations (the coordinating committee’s statement of task is listed in Box 2-1). RECURRENT THEMES The Corps of Engineers’ traditional primary activity has been to construct civil works projects that control and modify hydrologic and geomorphic processes in rivers and along coastal areas, and that maintain navigation channel depths. Corps flood control, navigation, and other projects have traditionally been expected to contribute to national and regional economic growth. The Corps has constructed, and in some 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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U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Water Resources Planning: A New Opportunity for Service BOX 2-1 Coordinating Committee Statement of Task This study will review the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' 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 streambank and shore protection, ecosystem restoration and protection, or any other water resources project carried out by the Corps.” In carrying out this study, a coordinating committee will be responsible for the overall coordination, organization, and oversight of the work of four focused panels on 1) Peer Review, 2) Planning Methods, 3) River Basin and Coastal Systems Planning, and 4) Adaptive Management. The coordinating committee will formulate general guidelines for the panels' reports to help ensure consistency in presentation and to minimize substantive gaps or overlaps. Liaisons from the coordinating committee will attend the first meetings of each panel, as well as selected subsequent meetings. When appropriate, the coordinating committee may wish to facilitate joint meetings or workshops among different panels with overlapping interests. After completion of the four panel reports, the coordinating committee will produce a synthesis document that includes the panels' findings and recommendations and provides advice on implementation of the panels' recommendations. The synthesis report will also identify any overarching themes, issues, or recommendations that emerge from the panels including possible future roles for the Corps in sustainable management of coastal and inland waters in the United States. cases operates and maintains, a large share of the nation’s physical water management infrastructure of dams, reservoirs, locks, levees, and port and inland navigation channels. A sense of the program scale is reflected by this fact: since passage of the Flood Control Act of 1936, the Corps has constructed approximately 400 major lake and reservoir projects, built more than 8,500 miles of levees and dikes, and implemented hundreds of smaller local flood protection projects that have been turned over to non-federal entities (USACE, 2001). In addition, substantial investments have been made to deepen approach channels to coastal ports and to manage shoreline erosion. The Corps’ net capital stock—the net investment that the Corps put in place through 1993, minus the accumulated retirement of investments and depreciation—is estimated at $119.1 billion (USACE, 2001). Construction spending has been declining over the past three decades, how-
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U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Water Resources Planning: A New Opportunity for Service ever, during both Republican and Democratic administrations and Congresses. Meanwhile, the “backlog” of authorized but unfunded projects has grown to approximately $50 billion, with additional project authorizations being contemplated. During the same period, the share of the Corps budget allocated to operating and maintaining its physical infrastructure has grown. Based on these trends, the near-term future appears to be one of increasing importance of operating, maintaining, and rehabilitating existing infrastructure, with a decreasing emphasis on new project construction for flood control and navigation purposes. More recently, the Corps budget for general investigations (planning) has declined by more than 50 percent from year 2000 levels. Despite decreasing emphasis on new project construction, the Corps will continue to require appropriations from the federal budget, given the importance of ensuring the continued utility of past investments. New projects will continue to be proposed and constructed as incremental additions to existing infrastructure and systems. Past investments will also have to be attended to for another reason: Corps projects control the hydrologic and geomorphic processes in most of the nation’s large rivers and along long stretches of coastline. For example, Corps of Engineers’ lakes store more than 300 million acre-feet of water. Although support remains for individual projects to serve traditional mission areas, there are now strong advocates for reallocating storage devoted to various uses (e.g., flood control, water supply) and/or modifying operations in ways that serve a broader suite of users. One new use is releasing water to restore some degree of pre-regulation flows and processes that were purposely disrupted by Corps projects. Another use that may be served by existing Corps projects is to increase the use of existing storage for municipal and industrial (M&I) water supply, especially in watersheds where Corps projects already occupy many potential storage locations. Advocates of more traditional roles for the Corps fear that a new “restoration mission,” or attention to providing M&I water supplies, will divert limited resources from project construction for traditional flood management and navigation demands, will challenge the operations and maintenance of existing projects, or will unfairly harm current project beneficiaries. Limited budgets and new visions of water management needs have spawned debates over future federal—and Corps of Engineers—roles in water management. These debates have been under way for more than three decades and have resulted in expanding federal legislation, executive orders, and other directives that guide and constrain Corps decision making. This in itself is not necessarily a problem, but guidance has
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U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Water Resources Planning: A New Opportunity for Service tended to accumulate at an accelerating pace. Moreover, few steps have been taken to ensure that new legislation is consistent with existing legislation. The result is that the Corps is often bound by conflicting mandates and often must, in effect, choose which to violate. The following quote from General David Fastabend (2002), former Commanding General of the Corps’ Northwestern Division, reflected this situation well: …the challenge is that the people of the United States have—over time—told us to do many, many things. In the 1930s and 1940s the American people told us to build, operate and maintain the Missouri River mainstem system for multiple project purposes. Since that original mission, the American people have given us additional instructions. In the 1970s they gave us the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act… As you can well imagine, no one was able to “deconflict” the multiple instructions given to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Our guidance is sometimes contradictory and the resolution of those contradictions is extremely problematic. It is in this context of conflicting visions of national water management needs and the future mission of the Corps in which questions have been raised about Corps planning methods and the quality and credibility of its planning studies. The need to continue managing flood and storm risks and to maintain inland navigation and port systems is not in dispute. However, as Congress’ request for these 216 studies demonstrates, questions about the justification of new and individually proposed and evaluated projects have been increasing. Also, the procedures through which the Corps justifies its maintenance, operation, and structural modifications to existing projects is carefully scrutinized. Meanwhile, planning and analysis to support the Corps’ emerging restoration mission remain under development. PORTFOLIO PLANNING: NEW REALITIES AND OPPORTUNITIES This report’s findings and recommendations are centered on an organizing theme: in the near term the Corps can best contribute to national water management by framing its planning activities around a concept termed “portfolio planning.” The term “portfolio” is used in Corps plan-
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U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Water Resources Planning: A New Opportunity for Service ning documents, but it is extended herein to consider both the water and related land resources of the nation’s rivers and coastal areas (natural capital), and the attendant physical water management infrastructure. This report focuses on Corps-built physical infrastructure, although it is recognized that in many places, Corps projects are part of larger systems that include privately funded projects, as well as projects of other federal and state agencies. The term “planning” includes both analytical approaches and decision-making processes that govern investment and management strategies for the “portfolio” of natural and infrastructure assets. The portfolio planning metaphor suggests that the nation must strive to make the best use of existing Corps-built physical infrastructure, rivers, and coastlines (recognizing that the term “best” invites debate). The metaphor also applies to governance issues (in which the infrastructure in the portfolio is the Corps’ responsibility) and to financial issues, as the Corps may decide to invest or divest itself of some responsibilities and thus change the composition of portfolio assets. The Corps’ portfolio of assets and concerns, as described here, should be broadened such that it not only focuses on traditional benefits of flood control and navigation, but also encompasses natural resources conservation and environmental values. Chapter 4 further discusses the portfolio planning metaphor and its relevance to managing the Corps existing water resources infrastructure. REPORT ORGANIZATION Chapter 3 reviews important historical events in the national approach to water management, focusing on roles of the Corps. This history is essential to understanding current national water management debates and to set the stage for this report’s findings and recommendations. Chapter 4 contains findings and recommendations for advancing portfolio planning. Chapter 5 includes recommendations on professional staff requirements and the planning and decision process. The report concludes with an epilogue in Chapter 6.
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