RIVER BASINS AND COASTAL SYSTEMS PLANNING WITHIN THE U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS
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NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the panel responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance.
This material is based upon work supported by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Humphreys Engineer Center Support Activity under Contract/Grant No. DACW72-01-C0001 and between the National Academy of Sciences and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the organizations or agencies that provided support for the project.
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COMMITTEE TO ASSESS THE U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS METHODS OF ANALYSIS AND PEER REVIEW FOR WATER RESOURCES PROJECT PLANNING
PANEL ON RIVER BASINS AND COASTAL SYSTEMS PLANNING1
PETER R. WILCOCK, Chair,
The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland
GAIL M. ASHLEY,
Rutgers University, Piscataway, New Jersey
DENISE L. BREITBURG,
Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, Edgewater, Maryland
VIRGINIA R. BURKETT, U.S.
Geological Survey, Lafayette, Louisiana
JOSEPH J. CORDES,
George Washington University, Washington, D.C.
ROBERT G. DEAN,
University of Florida, Gainesville
JOHN A. DRACUP,
University of California-Berkeley
WILLIAM J. MITSCH,
The Ohio State University, Columbus
ROBERT E. RANDALL,
Texas A&M University, College Station
A. DAN TARLOCK,
Chicago-Kent College of Law, Illinois
National Research Council Staff
JOHN DANDELSKI, Study Director
DAN WALKER, Senior Program Officer
NANCY CAPUTO, Senior Project Assistant
The Panel on River Basins and Coastal System Planning was one of four panels, operating under the auspices of a coordinating committee that was convened by the National Academies’ Water Science and Technology Board (lead) and Ocean Studies Board to carry out studies mandated in the Water Resources Development Act of 2000. The panel’s charge is described in Chapter 1. The panel and staff biographies are provided in Appendix A. The “parent bodies” are listed in Appendix C.
In the early 1800s the U.S. Congress first asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to improve navigation on our waterways. From that beginning, the Corps began a program of public works that has reshaped virtually all of the nation’ s river basins and coastal areas. Today we share in the benefits of those works: a reliable water transportation network, harbors that help link our economy to global markets, previously flood-prone land that is productive for urban and agricultural uses, hydroelectric power, and widely used recreational facilities.
Now, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, the Corps’ program is under intense scrutiny. Traditional constituencies press the Corps to complete projects that have been planned for many years and campaign for new projects to serve traditional flood control and navigation purposes. At the same time, environmental and taxpayer groups express concerns about these projects in Congress and in the courts. Some of these groups have exposed technical errors in analyses that have been used to justify projects. For these critics, the Corps’ water project development program must be reformed and the budget reduced or redirected.
Some of these same groups are pressing the administration, Congress, and the agency itself toward a new Corps mission, broadly described as environmental restoration. However, the concept of restoration awaits more precise definition, and the science of ecosystem restoration is in its infancy. Nevertheless, it is clear that restoration is a call for water resources management that accommodates and benefits from, rather than controls, annual and multi-year variability in the patterns and timing of river flows and the extremes of flood and drought.
Meanwhile, the Corps is affected by a general trend in all federal agencies toward smaller budgets and staffs. As demands for reform mount,
the Corps’ current staffing and organization may have to be reconfigured to provide improved and more credible planning reports.
As a result of this national debate over the Corps’ programs and the quality of its planning studies, the U.S. Congress in Section 216 of the 2000 Water Resources Development Act, requested that the National Academies conduct a study of procedures for reviewing the Corps’ planning studies (Appendix D). In addition, Congress requested a review of the “methods of analysis” used in Corps water resources planning.
In response to this request, the Water Science and Technology Board of the National Academies’ National Research Council (NRC), in collaboration with the NRC’s Ocean Studies Board, appointed four study panels to assess (1) peer review, (2) planning methods, (3) river basin and coastal systems planning, and (4) resource stewardship and adaptive management, along with a coordinating committee to follow these panels’ progress and to write a synthesis report (Appendix C).
Our study panels and coordinating committee held several meetings over the course of the study period beginning in 2001. We spoke with dozens of Corps of Engineers personnel, visited several Corps projects, and heard from different groups with interests in Corps projects. We came away with an appreciation for the dedication of Corps personnel and the complications and challenges they face in trying to be responsive to local project sponsors and the nation’s taxpayers.
This is not the first study of the Corps by the National Academies. However, past studies were often focused on specific projects or on particular planning aspects. The reports in this series address the agency’s programs in a wider context. Because we appreciate the importance of the U.S. Congress and the sitting administration in directing Corps programs, many of our recommendations are directed to them.
The Corps has a long history of serving the nation and is one of our oldest and most recognized federal agencies, but it is today at an important crossroads. The nation, through the administration and Congress, must help the agency chart its way for the next century.
Leonard Shabman, Chair,
The footprint of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps) on the nation’s waterways and coasts is enormous. The Corps has developed and maintains our navigable harbors and waterways, constructed dams large and small, reengineered rivers for flood control, and implemented a diverse range of shore protection measures. The social and economic benefits from flood control, navigation, and erosion protection are enormous, but so too have been the costs, not just for the construction and maintenance of these operations, but for their environmental impacts, cumulative effects, and unintended consequences. It is common, and all too easy, to criticize the Corps for these impacts, although, if examined closely, the criticisms are often made from the perspective of values and objectives that have changed substantially from those in effect when the projects were designed and built. A more useful approach may be to evaluate Corps projects in terms of the objectives specified at the time the projects were built and the authorities and tools available then to the Corps. To be sure, not all Corps projects can be judged a success on these terms. Yet in many cases, the Corps has very effectively achieved the objectives specified for a project, such as providing flood and shoreline protection and reliable shipping channels.
Over the past 30 years, the range of objectives sought for water projects has changed and grown considerably. Much greater value is now placed on environmental and recreational objectives, which serve to increase the complexity of water project planning while also expanding the spatial and temporal scales that must be considered. To meet these demands, the Corps is being asked to undertake integrated water project planning, adopting a watershed or regional approach and including an ecosystem perspective. Integrated water resources planning is widely endorsed by the academic and engineering communities and clearly supported by Corps policy and by
public statements of Corps leaders. Although the knowledge and tools necessary to undertake this work are evolving and the record of success is mixed, the Corps has endorsed the challenge and, in some ways, has led the charge.
Effective water project planning in this new environment requires an approach that seeks to balance a diverse range of objectives that cannot be directly or easily compared and to forecast outcomes and impacts of water projects in the midst of the considerable uncertainty inherent in large and complex natural systems. Such efforts are difficult not only because of the complexity of the contemporary multi-objective, multi-stakeholder planning environment, but also because of the complex and conflicting mix of legislation, congressional committee language, administration guidance, and legal precedent that operates as our nation’s water policy. The clear policy guidance and consistent funding and authority necessary for integrated planning at the scale of river basins and coastal systems do not presently exist. Integrated water resources planning must also be conducted in competition with strong pressures to build specific projects advocated by local interests and their congressional representatives. Further, even in cases where the need for a comprehensive regional analysis is widely supported, the funding necessary to carry out the analysis may not be available.
Despite these challenges, there is no shortage of examples in which the Corps is successfully engaged in integrated water resources planning and analysis at the scale of river basins and coastal systems. This is not to say that the Corps’ efforts in these cases fully satisfy all interested parties; such consensus is unlikely in large-scale, contentious projects with important environmental consequences and a range of stakeholders with conflicting interests. In a regulatory, policy, and political environment that neither fully supports integrated water resources planning, nor is likely to undergo wholesale changes in the near future, the focus of this panel was to evaluate barriers to effective integrated planning at the Corps and to identify changes in its regulations, guidance, and procedures that can help the Corps achieve its new and difficult integrated planning mission within the present political and economic environment.
In developing its report, the panel met three times. At an initial meeting in Washington, D.C., in June 2002, the panel heard from planning experts from Corps Headquarters and set the agenda for its review. At a second meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana, in September 2002, the panel heard presentations from a diverse set of experts from Corps districts, research labs, and the Institute for Water Resources. At a final meeting in Irvine, California, in November 2002, the panel met with members of the other
panels and the coordinating committee that, as a group, are conducting a broad evaluation of the Corps’ analysis methods and review procedures.
The panel’s work was greatly aided by the open, honest, and informed discussions with Corps staff members from all levels: headquarters, division, district, research labs, and the Institute for Water Resources. Although these individuals are also acknowledged elsewhere, it is appropriate to state here that the successful development of this report, and the satisfaction in producing it, can be directly attributed to the highly competent and enthusiastic staff members with whom the panel had the privilege of interacting.
The panel was chaired through August 2003 by Larry Roesner, who provided direction to the panel and liaison with the other panels and whose vision of Corps responsibilities in integrated water planning and environmental stewardship figures prominently in this final report. The panel’s work would not have been possible without the support of National Research Council staff. Jeff Jacobs (senior program officer, Water Science and Technology Board, and project director for the three other panels comprising the broader review of Corps planning and review procedures) provided timely and wise advice and assistance. John Dandelski (study director) and Dan Walker (senior program officer) played central roles throughout the panel’s deliberations and the production of this report, which simply would not have reached fruition without their good judgment, persistence, and hard work. Julie Pulley (project assistant) ably coordinated meeting logistics and early report drafts, and Nancy Caputo (senior project assistant) was pivotal in producing the final report.
Peter R. Wilcock, Chair,
Panel on River Basins and Coastal Systems Planning
This report was greatly enhanced by the participants of the two information gathering meetings held as part of this study. The panel would first like to acknowledge the efforts of those who gave presentations at meetings: Joseph Dixon, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; J. Craig Fischenich, U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s Environmental Laboratory; Bill Good, Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, Coastal Restoration Division; John D. Kiefer, Kentucky Geological Survey; Kenneth D. Orth, Institute for Water Resources; Russell V. Reed, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; David V. Schmidt, U.S. Army Engineer District; John Saia, U. S. Army Corps of Engineers; Harry Kitch, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; Scott Faber, Environmental Defense; Robert E. Turner, Louisiana State University; Robert Brumbaugh, Institute for Water Resources; and Charles B. Chesnutt, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The panel is also grateful to a number of people who provided important discussion and/or material for this report: Arlen Feldman, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Davis, California; Brian Moore, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Wilmington, North Carolina; Robyn S. Colosimo, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Headquarters, Washington, D.C.; and Mark Colosimo, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Beltsville, Maryland.
This report has been reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise, in accordance with procedures approved by the National Research Council’s Report Review Committee. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the institution in making its published report as sound as possible and to ensure that the report meets institutional
standards for objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process. We wish to thank the following individuals for their participation in their review of this report:
Stephen C. Farber, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
David Ford, David Ford Consulting Engineers, Sacramento, California
James R. Hanchey, State of Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Daniel P. Loucks, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York
Wilbur Mauck (retired), U.S. Geological Survey, Colombia, Missouri
Peter Rogers, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
John M. Volkman, Stoel Rives, LLP., Portland, Oregon
Douglas Wooley, Radford University, Radford, Virginia
Although the reviewers listed above have provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the conclusions or recommendations nor did they see the final draft of the report before its release. The review of this report was overseen by Dr. Kenneth Potter of the University of Wisconsin and Mr. Richard Conway (retired) of Union Carbide Corporation, who were appointed by the National Research Council, and were responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with institutional procedures and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content of this report rests entirely with the authoring panel and the institution.