6
Epilogue

Through its history of managing national water resources, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been charged primarily to construct channels, levees, and reservoirs to serve navigation, flood control, and other purposes. As noted in this report, the overarching goal of these projects was to control the control hydrologic variability and geomorphic processes in the nation’s rivers and coastal areas. Over time, however, the Corps project construction program has receded in national importance, and national water priorities beyond flood control and navigation have emerged. Federal funding for water projects has generally declined since the 1950s. In many of the nation’s watersheds, there is little room left to construct more projects, with the headwaters of some reservoirs and navigation pools backing up to the tailwaters of upstream dams. There is a need to ensure that existing Corps-built projects are managed to meet future navigation and flood management needs, as well as emerging water needs. There is also a need to ensure that new projects will be evaluated in terms of how much they contribute beyond the benefits to be derived from the existing system of projects. In sum, the planning challenge for the Corps is to respond substantively to an emerging vision of water management—a vision referred to in this report as “portfolio planning.”

Portfolio planning will be best advanced by clear instruction through a new study authority, by strategies that deploy Corps technical staff capability to maximize their value to the nation, and by procedures that elevate fundamental policy decisions to responsible decision- making authority within the administration, Congress, and the states. There is a need to refocus the Corps planning process and then support it via the means and procedures presented in this report. The current planning process, which is still largely oriented toward planning for new projects on a case-by-case basis, has not halted the long-term decline in federal funding, nor has it effectively addressed the increasing criticisms of Corps reports on such projects.



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U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Water Resources Planning: A New Opportunity for Service 6 Epilogue Through its history of managing national water resources, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been charged primarily to construct channels, levees, and reservoirs to serve navigation, flood control, and other purposes. As noted in this report, the overarching goal of these projects was to control the control hydrologic variability and geomorphic processes in the nation’s rivers and coastal areas. Over time, however, the Corps project construction program has receded in national importance, and national water priorities beyond flood control and navigation have emerged. Federal funding for water projects has generally declined since the 1950s. In many of the nation’s watersheds, there is little room left to construct more projects, with the headwaters of some reservoirs and navigation pools backing up to the tailwaters of upstream dams. There is a need to ensure that existing Corps-built projects are managed to meet future navigation and flood management needs, as well as emerging water needs. There is also a need to ensure that new projects will be evaluated in terms of how much they contribute beyond the benefits to be derived from the existing system of projects. In sum, the planning challenge for the Corps is to respond substantively to an emerging vision of water management—a vision referred to in this report as “portfolio planning.” Portfolio planning will be best advanced by clear instruction through a new study authority, by strategies that deploy Corps technical staff capability to maximize their value to the nation, and by procedures that elevate fundamental policy decisions to responsible decision- making authority within the administration, Congress, and the states. There is a need to refocus the Corps planning process and then support it via the means and procedures presented in this report. The current planning process, which is still largely oriented toward planning for new projects on a case-by-case basis, has not halted the long-term decline in federal funding, nor has it effectively addressed the increasing criticisms of Corps reports on such projects.

OCR for page 84
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Water Resources Planning: A New Opportunity for Service The importance of the administration and Congress in effecting these shifts cannot be overstated, as only they can provide the resources and authorities to allow the Corps to move aggressively to address a diverse and changing suite of national water-related needs. This report and the reports of the 216 study panels are the latest in a long line of reviews requested to comment on Corps programs and national water management. These reviews date back (at least) to the early twentieth century and include the National Resources Planning Board in the 1930s, the Cooke Commission of the middle twentieth century, and the National Water Commission of the 1960s and 1970s. Although the setting of Corps projects and operations has changed markedly over the years, a key message that has emerged from the 216 studies parallels findings from these previous distinguished groups: clear direction and support from the administration and Congress are necessary to enable the Corps to serve the nation’s water management needs and to adjust its efforts in response to shifting national water management priorities.