(ESA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) at the federal level, and complementary acts at the state level, affect the Corps' planning process. Local sponsor plans and perceptions also influence the Corps, although these are primarily external to the Corps' internal planning procedures. This study's findings and recommendations address the task statement from two levels of analysis: issues internal to the Corps' organizational structure and issues that go beyond and are external to the Corps.
The Corps of Engineers project planning process is divided into two stages, a reconnaissance study and feasibility study, which together require an average of 5.6 years to complete. Corps reconnaissance studies, which are conducted by the Corps' district offices, are today required to be completed within 12 months. There is then often a lag between the end of project reconnaissance and the start of a feasibility study. Between 1985 and 1996, the average length of this gap was roughly one year. Feasibility studies between 1985 and 1996 averaged 3.6 years.
The committee investigated in detail the length of various components of the planning process and the means by which they might be shortened. Although the Corps recently has made considerable progress in streamlining its planning, it could take other steps. For example, the committee recommends that when it appears to the Corps and the local sponsor that a reconnaissance study will have a favorable outcome, they should immediately begin the steps required for the next planning phase, the feasibility study. The committee also recommends that a negotiated preconstruction engineering and design (PED) cost-sharing agreement be completed at the same time as the division (chief) engineer's report is released to Corps headquarters.
The committee generally agrees with the current requirement that the Corps consider a broad range of alternatives during project planning. However, the Corps should develop a simple procedure that allows for the omission of analysis of expensive alternatives that are unlikely to be adopted, and stages of review for small projects for which a broad consensus exists.
Some of this committee's suggestions for improving the planning process—such as greater consultation with local sponsors and more thorough analysis of complex restoration projects—will not result in shortening that process. Thorough, careful water resources planning is a complicated undertaking. Water projects have become more complex as our knowledge of physical and biological systems has increased, and as planning requirements (such as environmental impact statements, biological models, and consideration of basinwide biophysical impacts) have become greater (Figure ES.1). It is not unusual for private-sector water projects, such as the planning of a water supply system, to take several years. Such private-sector projects are often simpler, have more localized effects, face fewer regulatory requirements, and serve a narrower range of clients than does a Corps of Engineers project. Expectations of the Corps' ability to reduce further the time required in its planning should be realistic. While the Corps may be able to trim several months from its project planning procedures, it would be unreasonable to expect years to be trimmed from the process.
The committee was requested to consider the necessity for a review of the main document that guides federal water planning, the Principles and Guidelines for Water and Related Land Resources Implementation Studies, which were approved in