''Do No Harm'': A New Philosophy for Reconciling Engineering and Ecology

David J. Schaeffer

The Upper Mississippi River And Illinois Waterway System

The Upper Mississippi River (UMR) and the Illinois Waterway1 (IWW) are important shipping arteries comprising 1,250 navigable miles that drain 697,000 square miles (Figure 1). Between 1960 and 1990, commerce on the UMR increased from 27 million to 91 million tons per year and IWW shipping doubled to 46 million tons per year. This navigation system (UMR-IWWS) includes 37 lock sites and more than 360 terminals. The projected average annual growth in shipping is between 1.7 and 3.1 percent for the UMR and between 1.2 and 2.5 percent for the IWW. However, most locks were designed to accommodate only a small fraction of the current traffic, and their 600-foot length is half that of many of the tows (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 1991), which requires that the barges be unlashed and sent through in smaller groups.

To ensure adequate navigation capacity on the UMR-IWWS through 2050, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposes to spend several billion dollars renovating 27 locks on the UMR and 8 locks on the IWW. The proposed increases in navigation capacity are highly controversial.

Opposing Philosophies

The controversy results from deep historical conflicts between the Corps with its production-based philosophy and various federal, state, and nongovernmental organizations with conservation-based philosophies (Leopold, 1949; Stone, 1974). The production-based philosophy is a short-term view (less than a



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 187
--> ''Do No Harm'': A New Philosophy for Reconciling Engineering and Ecology David J. Schaeffer The Upper Mississippi River And Illinois Waterway System The Upper Mississippi River (UMR) and the Illinois Waterway1 (IWW) are important shipping arteries comprising 1,250 navigable miles that drain 697,000 square miles (Figure 1). Between 1960 and 1990, commerce on the UMR increased from 27 million to 91 million tons per year and IWW shipping doubled to 46 million tons per year. This navigation system (UMR-IWWS) includes 37 lock sites and more than 360 terminals. The projected average annual growth in shipping is between 1.7 and 3.1 percent for the UMR and between 1.2 and 2.5 percent for the IWW. However, most locks were designed to accommodate only a small fraction of the current traffic, and their 600-foot length is half that of many of the tows (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 1991), which requires that the barges be unlashed and sent through in smaller groups. To ensure adequate navigation capacity on the UMR-IWWS through 2050, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposes to spend several billion dollars renovating 27 locks on the UMR and 8 locks on the IWW. The proposed increases in navigation capacity are highly controversial. Opposing Philosophies The controversy results from deep historical conflicts between the Corps with its production-based philosophy and various federal, state, and nongovernmental organizations with conservation-based philosophies (Leopold, 1949; Stone, 1974). The production-based philosophy is a short-term view (less than a

OCR for page 187
--> FIGURE 1 Upper Mississippi River and Illinois Waterway navigation system.

OCR for page 187
--> century): the purpose of resources is be used to their fullest by humans, with minimal regard to other users (i.e., species) or abiotic components of the ecological system. The conservation-based philosophy, as discussed in this paper, is a long-term view (centuries to millennia): the purpose of ecosystems is to provide numerous biological and abiotic resources on a sustainable basis. (The production-based philosophy has dominated for two centuries the statutes that govern resource use in the United States, but statutes are increasingly conservation-based.) While Chief of Engineers, General Henry J. Hatch brought these philosophies together when he declared the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to be the nation's environmental engineers. These philosophies are brought together in law by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).2 Disagreement regarding the appropriate philosophical balance in practice is at the heart of the conflict between conservationist decision makers outside the Corps of Engineers and decision makers in the Corps. The former believe that the Corps is not considering all significant effects of river navigation on the ecological systems. Environmental management has a variety of objectives, including preservation, infrastructure maintenance, and biological diversity, and a variety of human uses, including income production, life support, recreation, and aesthetics. Achieving these objectives over the long-term requires sustainability of the underlying ecosystem (Costanza, in this volume; Costanza et al., 1992; Cox et al., 1993b; Rapport et al., 1985; Schaeffer, 1991; Schaeffer et al., 1988). Progress depends on striking an appropriate balance among the various goals, using environmental resources efficiently and only to the extent necessary (Herricks et al., 1988; Schaeffer et al., 1985). Incomplete ecological knowledge, or a balance weighted toward social perceptions that favor use, often results in ecological disasters such as occurred in the Florida Everglades after hydraulic modifications (Wodraska and yon Haam, in this volume). The conventional production-based philosophy is based in a legal system that legitimizes exploitation of the ecosystem to accomplish short-term human-oriented goals at the expense of long-term ecosystem sustainability (McNeely, 1988). Because legislation is shaped by compromises among political, social, and economic forces, the law presents multiple, fragmented, and uncoordinated objectives for environmental management (Schaeffer et al., 1980). Specifically, the ecological goal of "sustainable" ecosystems is based on an emerging legal principle that the "right" of ecosystems to be sustainable is inherent (Stone, 1974). Conservation agencies do not at present operate under statutes that grant sustainability as an inherent ecosystem right, but these agencies do implement programs under statutes that regard sustainability as a goal. These statutes include NEPA, the Endangered Species Act, and the ''health of the ecosystem'' requirement in the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments. The 1972 Federal Water Pollution Control Act established the goals that the nation's surface waters Were to be "fishable" and "swimmable." To achieve these goals required that stan-

OCR for page 187
--> dards be set for toxic effluents based on health effects (Section 307(a)(2)) and that surface water criteria be established based on the identifiable effects of each pollutant on the public health and welfare, aquatic life, and recreation (Section 304(a)). Both philosophies consider interrelationships between ecosystems and human legal, social, political, and economic systems. However, their emphasis on dissimilar relationships results in fundamental differences between the two philosophy's valuations of ecosystem worth and protection. Engineering Production Philosophy Engineers' production-based philosophy is supported by existing legislation that subsumes economic, social, and political factors. Paradoxically, although this philosophy generally increases the use of ecosystems for short-term human purposes (e.g., mining, lumbering), it has resulted in explicit and implicit protections for ecosystems. For example, the "fishable" goal of the 1972 amendments to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act was (ostensibly) environmental.3 However, a production-based philosophy dominated the EPA implementation regulations, which emphasized minimizing the danger to human health from consumption of contaminated water and aquatic organisms. Generally, regulations developed using the production-based philosophy emphasize particular known and knowable components of ecosystems, such as specific "threatened" and "endangered" species, rather than the sustainability of an entire ecosystem. Although most regulations based on a production-based philosophy result in minimal legal protections to ensure ecosystem sustainability,4 some implicitly limit adverse effects on the unknowable components of ecosystems, such as might result from climate changes and pollutants. One example is evidence that the sexual abnormalities, feminization, and marked declines in fertility and life span that are now being identified in many aquatic species of reptiles, fishes, and amphibians are due to binding of the estrogen receptor by pollutants present in the environment at levels defined in regulations as safe (Colborn et al., 1993; McLachlan, 1993). Though these effects were previously unappreciated, their magnitudes may be limited by existing regulations that were written in response to earlier understanding of effects of pollutants on reproductive systems. The production-based philosophy also produces adverse consequences for management and protection efforts. Production-based goals make it difficult to determine whether an effect is adverse, because regulations, management aims, and protection programs are developed from assumptions that are not fully inclusive of the range of services provided by ecosystems. Some of these assumptions are given below. Environmental management and protection efforts are based on "known"

OCR for page 187
--> science, with the presumption against adverse effects unless such effects can be demonstrated. For example, it has been known (i.e., assumed) that the discharge of very low concentrations of organic pollutants in waste waters causes no harm. But recent declines in numerous aquatic and amphibian species appear to be due to the estrogenic effects of low concentrations of highly potent compounds, for example, by binding to the estrogen receptor. Environmental management and protection efforts are presumed to be comprehensive when they are actually only minimal. For example, water use policies in the western states have increased crop yields but have also continuously increased the salinity of the soil, destroyed the ecology of the Grand Canyon, and adversely altered rainfall patterns in the region (Maranto, 1985; Poster, 1984). Environmental management and protection efforts are consumed by an inefficient process of administrative rule making and are perpetually open for challenge, review, and revision. For example, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) spent several years developing separate regulations for the application of sewage sludge to agricultural and nonagricultural land, but changed its position at the last moment and promulgated a single standard (USEPA, 1993). Statutes and regulations emphasize single stress agents or individual species and do not consider biological communities or, in the broad sense, their abiotic habitat. For example, the Clean Water Act's goal of "fishable" was translated by the Environmental Protection Agency as water quality criteria to ensure that fish were "consumable" by humans. Conservation Philosophy The conservation-based philosophy is directed toward enhancing and sustaining the known, knowable, and unknowable components of an ecosystem. A suitable legal framework would define and balance human long-term needs for sustainable ecosystems against short-term uses of ecological resources (McNeely, 1988). Whereas the production-based philosophy uses multiple formulations of a sustainable ecosystem that depend on the proposed uses of resources, the conservation-based philosophy uses features common to all sustainable ecosystems5 (Holling, in this volume; Odum, 1969; Rapport et al., 1985; Schaeffer et al., 1988). Many of these characteristics are familiar to engineers because they concern a system's thermodynamic and kinetic properties, including fluxes of energy and materials, regulation of fluxes through feedback processes, and establishment of pseudoequilibria, such as the capacity of an ecosystem to temper toxic effects. Like engineered materials, ecosystems fail when stresses exceed system limits (resistance failures), occur too frequently (resilience failures), or alter fundamental properties of the habitat (see Holling, in this volume). Engi-

OCR for page 187
--> neers need to increase their understanding of ecological function. With this background, they can help ecologists develop standardized methods to measure ecosystem resistance and resilience, and quantify ecosystem tolerance limits, such as thresholds (Khan, 1992; Schaeffer and Cox, 1991). Certain laws provide explicit protections for the known and knowable aspects of the domain encompassed in the term "ecosystem" in the conservation-based philosophy. For example, the Endangered Species Act affords protection to the spotted owl by ensuring the sustainability of the old-growth forest that is its habitat. This implicitly also protects the unknowable relationships among the owl, other species, and abiotic habitat components. The Endangered Species Act does not require balancing economic costs against the ecological benefits resulting from protection of a species. If the Endangered Species Act is an idealistic implementation of the conservation-based philosophy, the National Environmental Policy Act requires a pragmatic balancing of the production-based and conservation-based philosophies. Thus, if threatened and endangered species are not at risk, the National Environmental Policy Act will allow for an ecosystem to be exploited for some purposes, provided that efforts are made to avoid, minimize, or mitigate effects on other ecosystem components. Upper Mississippi River Navigation Studies The UMR-IWW navigation system provides habitat for at least 485 species of birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and fish, including many endangered or threatened species. It includes a national fish and wildlife refuge of more than 226,650 acres and provides drinking water, irrigation, and recreation services to hundreds of communities. To ensure that the natural resources and other services are not adversely affected by increases in barge traffic and the associated engineering efforts, the Corps has embarked on a $42 million program to assess the effects from increased navigation and recreational traffic. These studies will result in the preparation of a final environmental impact statement in 1999 by the Corps, with advice from state and federal natural resource agencies (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Illinois Department of Conservation, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Missouri Department of Conservation, and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources) and other organizations that can influence legal acceptability through the Courts (e.g., Izaak Walton League, Sierra Club, and Minnesota-Wisconsin Boundary Area Commission). However, the differences in the perspectives and goals of these various agencies, the Corps, and other organizations have resulted in a decade-long conflict in setting the goals for the ecological studies (Schaeffer et al., 1992; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 1991). As discussed below, the conflict reflects a clash of philosophies.

OCR for page 187
--> Assessing Future Effects: A Clash of Philosophies In response to requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act, the Corps is carrying out engineering and ecological studies to determine whether incremental increases in navigation traffic will cause significant, incremental, detrimental changes in ecological resources. Site-specific studies will be completed as structures are scheduled for renovation. The ecological studies will provide data the Corps needs to devise management plans for maintaining the best possible ecosystem conditions without constraining navigation. Thus, regarding the construction of the second lock at the Melvin Price Locks and Dam, an interagency team reported as follows: When [this study] was initiated, the objective was focused towards pursuing investigations which would identify and quantify impacts associated with the incremental traffic increase resulting from the second lock. However, recognizing that the basic study elements needed for this investigation will also be useful to future Corps studies that will require navigation impact information, the following ... objective was adopted by the interagency team: The [Corps] will develop studies which identify and quantify navigation traffic impacts to significant [UMR-IWW] natural resources where such impacts are currently poorly defined due to lack of scientific data. If possible, studies will quantify the impacts associated with that increment of traffic caused by the second lock. Where feasible , studies will quantify secondary impacts (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 1991, p. 3; emphasis added). In 1990 when this study plan was written, the Corps and representatives of the resource agencies had reached an accommodation that would allow the Corps to minimize the harm to the ecological system and satisfy demands for barge traffic capacity. Unfortunately, by the time the ecological studies were initiated in 1994, all the organizations had new representatives, who resurfaced the old conflicts that again polarized the philosophies. The problems appear to fall into three broad areas: personal beliefs that are not separated from agency policy (possibly because of the absence of enunciated policy); the Corps' focus on incremental effects and resource agencies' focus on total effects; and differences in reliance on mathematical models. Thus, the Corps' field and laboratory studies and mathematical models suggest that the effects will be small, possibly not measurable, and not ecologically significant. However, the conclusions drawn by the Corps were rejected by most resource agency representatives, who instead have concluded from general ecological considerations and field observations (e.g., habitat loss) that the effects will be significant and adverse. They want the Corps to provide absolute assurances that no harm will result from increases in navigation traffic. The resource agency representatives have several beliefs stemming from their conservation-based philosophy. One belief is that the Corps must determine whether the total effect on ecological resources from all traffic will be appre-

OCR for page 187
--> ciable, rather than limit the evaluation to the significance of incremental effects from additional traffic. Another belief is that the Corps should gather basic scientific and ecological data, even if such data cannot be used as a baseline for determining whether significant impacts occur or for the "avoid, minimize, mitigate" analyses the Corps has included in the environmental impact statement. The resource agencies' most important belief is that current traffic is already causing deleterious effects, so additional ecological effects due to increases in traffic can not be minimal. The resource agency representatives anticipate that engineering studies the Corps is carrying out using a 400-foot-long 1:25 scale model of the Mississippi River and barges will result in major revisions to the hydrodynamic and hydraulic models the Corps uses to estimate environmental effects (due to shear forces and sediment resuspension) from tows. The revised models would then confirm resource agency beliefs that increases in navigation traffic will cause significant adverse ecological effects. In contrast, most engineers expect small changes in model coefficients, confirming that forces, wave action, and sediment transport due to tows will be below ecologically relevant levels. Whatever balances are agreed to, all parties recognize that engineering changes must meet the navigation needs of society without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own ecological needs. Conclusion In October 1994 the Cousteau society presented a "Bill of Rights for Future Generations" to the United Nations General Assembly. Articles 2 and 3 state: Each generation ... has a duty as trustee for future generations to prevent irreversible and irreparable harm to life on Earth.... It is, therefore, the paramount responsibility of each generation to maintain a constantly vigilant and prudential assessment of technological disturbances and modifications adversely affecting life on Earth, the balance of nature, and the evolution of mankind in order to protect the rights of future generations. Engineering profoundly affects the structure of life on Earth, so the engineers' ethic in carrying out technological modifications must be to "do no harm" to the environment. Thus, engineers cannot continue to develop and implement technology as if it occurred in a thermodynamically isolated system. Technological development takes place in an engineered system that has complex connections to multiple physical, chemical, biological, ecological, and social systems. An environmental ethic can be included in engineering if production goals are defined within a conservation-based philosophy. This philosophic expansion can be summarized as a pair of goals: to maximize engineering to maximize ecosystem sustainability to maximize engineering by maximizing ecosystem sustainability

OCR for page 187
--> Effecting a change in philosophy to ensure the sustainability of ecosystems will require education, research, and changes in law. Notes 1.   The Upper Mississippi River extends from River Mile (RM) 218.0 near St. Louis, Missouri, to RM 854.0 at Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota. The Illinois Waterway extends from Grafton to Chicago, Illinois. The total Illinois and Mississippi River navigation system contains 37 locks (of which 35 are included in the proposed renovation program of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) and 360 terminals. Lock and Dam 26 (RM 202.9, Alton, Illinois) was replaced in 1989 by the Melvin Price Locks and Dam (RM 200.8); a second lock opened in 1994. 2.   The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was passed by Congress in 1969 in part to integrate environmental considerations into the decision making process for "every recommendation or report on proposals for legislation and other major federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment" (§102[2][c]). NEPA put in place the requirement for impact analyses that have evolved from limited assessments that meet the letter of the law to comprehensive assessment programs that meet the spirit of the law. The role of NEPA in ensuring that the proposed changes in the UMR-IWW navigation capacity meet the spirit of the law has been discussed elsewhere (Cox et al., 1993a; Schaeffer et al., 1988, 1993). 3.   Before 1972 the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (FWPCA) left it up to the states to develop ambient water quality standards to protect interstate and navigable waters for uses the state wanted to facilitate (e.g., agriculture, industry, recreation, human consumption, prevention of imminent health hazard). The 1972 amendments established a system of national standards, permits, and enforcement "goals" of "fishable and swimmable" waters by 1983 and total elimination of pollutant discharges into navigable waters by 1985. Following amendment of the FWPCA in 1977, it was designated the Clean Water Act. 4.   Factors that alter an ecosystem from the conceptual image of that ecosystem embodied in a particular law (e.g., "fishable and swimmable") pose excess risk. The term de minimis risk is widely used in federal risk analysis (see Whipple, 1987) to mean a specific level below which a risk estimate is so small that it can be ignored i.e., a threshold (Schaeffer and Cox, 1991). A legal threshold for sustainability is the level of risk a given law accepts; for example, a game fish with a sustainable population but which is not edible due to contamination. An ecological threshold is the value of a relevant ecological parameter at the point at which the risk becomes adverse. For example, based on Karr's (1981) Index of Biotic Integrity, Khan (1992) found that the quality of Illinois fisheries usually was less than "good" if there were fewer than 17 species. 5.   These include habitat for desired diversity and reproduction of organisms; phenotypic and genotypic diversity among the organisms; a robust food chain supporting the desired biota; an adequate nutrient pool for desired organisms; adequate nutrient cycling to perpetuate the ecosystem; adequate energy flux for maintaining the trophic structure; feedback mechanisms for damping undesirable oscillations; capacity to temper toxic effects, including the capacity to decompose, transfer, chelate or bind anthropogenic inputs to a degree that they are no longer toxic within the system. References Colborn, T., F. S. vom Saal, and A. M. Soto. 1993. Developmental effects of endocrine-disrupting chemicals in wildlife and humans. Environmental Health Perspectives 101:378-384. Costanza, R., B. G. Norton, and B. D. Haskell, eds. 1992. Ecosystem Health: New Goals for Environmental Management. Washington, D.C.: Island Press.

OCR for page 187
--> Cox, D. K., T. M. Keevin, F. T. Norris, S. Gensler, and D. J. Schaeffer. 1993a. When is a cost "exorbitant" under NEPA? The Environmental Professional 15:145-149. Cox, D. K., V. R. Beasley, and P. W. Andrews. 1993b. Balancing management goals for ecological systems on a sustainable basis: An analysis of the Pacific Northwest timber dispute. The George Wright Forum 10(4):76-81. Herricks, E. E., D. J. Schaeffer, and J. A. Perry. 1988. Biomonitoring: Closing the loop in the environmental sciences. Pp. 351-366 in Environmental Biology, S. Levin, ed. New York: Springer-Verlag. Karr, J. R. 1981. Assessment of biotic integrity using fish communities. Fisheries 6:21-27. Khan, S. 1992. Development of practical ecosystem threshold criteria using fisheries and benthic data. M.S. Thesis. Champaign: School of Life Sciences, University of Illinois. Leopold, A. 1949. A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There. London: Oxford University Press. Maranto, G. 1985. A once and future desert (Salinization of California farmland). Discover 6(June):32-33. McLachlan, J. A. 1993. Functional toxicology: A new approach to detect biologically active xenobiotics. Environmental Health Perspectives 101:386-387. McNeely, J. A. 1988. Economics and Biological Diversity: Developing and Using Economic Incentives to Conserve Biological Resources. Gland, Switzerland: International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. Odum, E. P. 1969. The strategy of ecosystem development. Science 164:262-270. Poster, S. 1984. Halting land degradation. Focus 39(Spring):5-12. Rapport, D. J., H. A. Reiger, and T. C. Hutchinson. 1985. Ecosystem behavior under stress. American Naturalist 125:617-640. Schaeffer, D. J. 1991. A toxicological perspective on ecosystem characteristics to track sustainable development. Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety 22:225-239. Schaeffer, D. J., and D. K. Cox. 1991. Approaches to establish ecosystem threshold criteria. Pp. 157-169 in Ecosystem Health: New Goals for Environmental Management, R. Costanza, B. G. Norton, and B. D. Haskell, eds. Washington, D.C.: Island Press. Schaeffer, D. J., J. Park, H. W. Kerster, and K. G. Janardan. 1980. Sampling and the regulatory maze in the United States. Environmental Management 4:469-481. Schaeffer, D. J., J. A. Perry, H. W. Kerster, and D. K. Cox. 1985. The environmental audit. I. Concepts. Environmental Management 9:191-198. Schaeffer, D. J., E. E. Herricks, and H. W. Kerster. 1988. Ecosystem health. I. Measuring ecosystem health. Environmental Management 12:445-455. Schaeffer, D. J., D. E. Leake, T. M. Keevin, and E. E. Herricks. 1992. Development of a Plan of Study (POS) to evaluate the biological risk of increased navigation traffic on the Mississippi River. The Environmental Professional 14:248-256. Schaeffer, D. J. D. K. Cox, E. E. Herricks, and T. M. Keevin. 1993. The design of NEPA studies: Application of the study design assurance process to the Upper Mississippi River navigation impact studies. The Environmental Professional 15:89-94. Stone, C. D. 1974. Should Trees Have Standing? Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects. Los Altos, Calif.: William Kaufmann. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 1991. Plan of Study. Navigation Effects of the Second Lock Melvin Price Locks and Dam. St. Louis, Mo.: St. Louis District Corps of Engineers. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 1993. Standards for the use or disposal of sewage sludge. Federal Register (13 February 1993) 58:9248-9415. Whipple, C., ed. 1987. De Minimis Risk. New York: Plenum Press.