Higher discount rates that disfavored project economic justification (Moore and Moore, 1989), coupled with the Office of Management and Budget's general lack of enthusiasm for water projects (Caulfield, 1977), resulted in decreased funding. Federal outlays for water projects dropped by almost 80 percent, from $6 billion per year in 1968 to $1.3 billion in fiscal 1984, and from 1977 to 1983 more Corps civil works projects were canceled than were authorized (Moore and Moore, 1989). The Reagan administration's emphasis on cost sharing further reduced federal support for large-scale water development.
Most of the nation's main rivers and tributaries had already been dammed by the late 1960s, also decreasing the possibility of more federally funded water projects. The mainstreams of the Columbia, Missouri, Mississippi, Colorado, Tennessee, Ohio, and Rio Grande had been nearly fully developed. The need for large-scale water resources engineering and construction had simply declined.
By the end of the 1970s, these factors, along with heightened environmental awareness, necessitated changes to the Corps' project planning. The Chief of Engineers enunciated new, agency-wide environmental objectives; public involvement was expanded; new environmental resources units were established at the district, division, and headquarters levels; and the Corps hired personnel with expertise in the biological and social sciences to augment the agency's environmental programs.
"Fishbowl planning"—public participation in all steps of the planning process—was conceived and implemented by the Corps' Seattle district. It represented the most extensive effort to incorporate the myriad changes and directives into the agency's traditional planning process (Mazmanian and Nienaber, 1979). Used for several projects in the Pacific Northwest, including a flood damage reduction project on the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River, this new planning model (originally mandated by NEPA and the EIS requirements) resulted in a longer and costlier process.
Although popular with the general public, the Corps eventually scaled back public participation because it was not considered to be cost-effective. For instance, in the case of the Snoqualmie River, the original congressional authorization for a flood damage reduction study was passed in 1960, but the agency's final study was not scheduled for completion until 1981 (Mazmanian and Nienaber, 1979). Other examples where public participation programs were reduced include the Meramec Lake Project (St. Louis district) and the Little Calumet River Project (Chicago district).
This attenuated planning process, new environmental legislation, and the precipitous decline in new starts in the 1970s caused the Corps to reconsider its entire planning process. In addition, Congress was soon to change the context and ground rules for federal water projects and planning. The changes enacted in the federal Water Resources Development Act of 1986 (WRDA '86) and the following years are reviewed in detail in Chapter 2.