ADAPTIVE MANAGEMENT FOR WATER RESOURCES PROJECT PLANNING
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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 committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance.
Support for this project was provided by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under contract no. DACW72-01-C-0001. 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 ADAPTIVE MANAGEMENT FOR RESOURCE STEWARDSHIP*
DONALD F. BOESCH, Chair,
University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Cambridge
HENRY J. BOKUNIEWICZ,
State University of New York, Stony Brook
RICHARD DE NEUFVILLE,
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge
G. EDWARD DICKEY, Consultant,
HOLLY D. DOREMUS,
University of California School of Law, Davis
CARL H. HERSHNER, JR.,
Virginia Institute of Marine Science, Gloucester Point
FREDERICK J. HITZHUSEN,
Ohio State University, Columbus
CHARLES D. D. HOWARD, Consultant,
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
WILLIAM R. LOWRY,
Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri
BARRY R. NOON,
Colorado State University, Fort Collins
California Institute of Technology, Pasadena
ROBERT W. STERNER,
University of Minnesota, St. Paul
National Research Council Staff
JEFFREY W. JACOBS, Study Director
ELLEN A. DE GUZMAN, Research Associate
JON Q. SANDERS, Senior Project Assistant
In the early 1800s the U.S. Congress first asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (which was created in 1775) 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 multiyear 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 re-configured 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. 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.
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.
Chair, Coordinating Committee
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has a rich tradition of developing and employing civil engineering methods to help meet the nation’s navigation, flood protection, and other water resources-related needs. Its traditions are embodied in its motto “Essayons,” a French term meaning “Let us try.” However, growing concerns over unanticipated environmental consequences of Corps civil works projects, changing national policies and preferences regarding the environment, and a congressionally expanded mission in the realm of ecosystem restoration left the Corps at the end of the twentieth century seeking to address competing demands in a complex and rapidly-changing world.
In response to this new challenge, Chief of Engineers Lt. General Robert Flowers announced at the dedication of a Mississippi River diversion project in Louisiana in March 2002 a set of new environmental operating principles to guide the Corps in all of its work. These principles include, among others, to achieve environmental sustainability; to recognize the interdependence of life and the physical environment, seeking balance and synergy among human development activities and natural systems; to seek ways to assess and mitigate cumulative impacts on the environment and bring systems approaches to the full life cycle of Corps processes and work; and to build and share an integrated knowledge base that supports a greater understanding of the environment and impacts of Corps activities. These are sound principles for guidance but they pose implementation and operations challenges. Sustainability is hard to define. Interactions among human activities and natural systems are complex and synergies are elusive. Consequently, objectives are not always clear and uncertainties about outcomes are frequently great. Knowledge can and should be built upon, but understanding of natural systems is often incoherent and diffuse.
It is just such conditions that led to the development of adaptive management as a concept and approach to allow managers to take action in the face of uncertainties, to enhance scientific knowledge and thereby
reduce uncertainties, and to craft management regimes that respond to, and even take advantage of, unanticipated events. The Corps of Engineers has been incorporating adaptive management into some of its activities, particularly large-scale ecosystem restoration activities such as those in the Everglades. However, the practice is young, and options for its application in a wider range of Corps works are little explored. For example, the Corps today finds itself in the middle of several pointed planning and management controversies. In some instances reviewed in this study, the Corps has been involved in planning or “reoperations” studies that have extended over decades in an operating environment that confounds clear and decisive management actions. Adaptive management approaches offers one path forward.
Our panel assessed ways in which adaptive management might usefully be applied in Corps project planning and operations as part of a broader study conducted in response to a directive from Congress in Section 216 of the 2000 Water Resources Development Act. Section 216 directed the National Academy of Sciences to review the Corps’ peer review procedures and its methods of analysis. In response, the National Research Council (NRC) appointed four study panels and a coordinating committee. Separate panel reports on review procedures within the U.S. Corps of Engineers, analytical methods, and river basin and coastal systems planning were published in addition to this report on adaptive management. The coordinating committee prepared an overarching report, based in part on the individual panel reports.
This panel held four meetings: the first and last meetings were convened at the National Research Council in Washington, D.C.; the second meeting at offices of the Corps St. Paul district office in Minnesota; and the third meeting in West Palm Beach, Florida. At these meetings we heard the perspectives and experiences related to adaptive management of individuals from Corps of Engineers Headquarters and the St. Paul and Jacksonville district offices. The St. Paul and West Palm Beach meetings included open public sessions in which representatives of other federal and state agencies participated. We also consulted with the New Orleans district office, and sought the views of Corps staff members and state and federal agency representatives on application of adaptive management in Louisiana coastal restoration.
In particular, we thank former Chief of Planning Dr. James Johnson, Lynn Martin of the Institute for Water Resources, and Harry Kitch of Corps Headquarters for their perspectives on Corps decision making and adaptive management; Lisa Hedin, Don Powell, Jeff Gulan, Leon Mucha, Dick Otto, Dan Krumholz, and Steve Tapp of the St. Paul district
office for their views regarding Upper Mississippi River ecology and management; Stuart Appelbaum of the Jacksonville District for sharing his experiences in the Everglades Restoration; Claude Strauser of the St. Louis district office for information on the Middle Mississippi River; and Troy Constance of the New Orleans district office for information regarding coastal Louisiana. Other speakers and experts who provided valuable input included Nick Aumen of the National Park Service; Gretchen Benjamin of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources; Mark Kraus of the National Audubon Society, Stephen Light of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy; Kenneth Lubinski of the U.S. Geological Survey; John Ogden of the South Florida Water Management District, and; Jon Porthouse of the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources.
The panel owes a strong debt of gratitude to the NRC staff for its professionalism and effectiveness in ensuring that our panel adhered to its task statement, for providing discipline and experience in helping to assemble the report and effectively responding to reviewers, and for providing background research support and organizing our meetings. In particular, we thank Senior Staff Officer Jeffrey Jacobs of the Water Science and Technology Board, who worked tirelessly on numerous drafts and revisions. I, alone, count more than 100 e-mail messages from Jeff since the beginning of the drafting process requesting editorial changes and seeking additional clarity and intellectual rigor in our report. Senior Project Assistant Jon Sanders and Research Associate Ellen de Guzman ably assisted him. I also extend my deep gratitude to my fellow panel members, who participated in our discussions in this study in a professional and collegial manner, and who approached their task statement with great seriousness and intellectual curiosity. I appreciated the opportunity to work with these colleagues from several disciplines, many of whom I would never have met in my usual professional research and administration circles.
The report was reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for diversity of perspective and technical expertise in accordance with the procedures approved by the NRC’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 thank the following for their review of this report: John J. Boland, Johns Hopkins University; Jeanne
N. Clarke, University of Arizona; Lt. Gen. Henry J. Hatch, consultant; Kai N. Lee, Williams College; Daniel P. Loucks, Cornell University; Robert Perciasepe, National Audubon Society, and; Timothy D. Search-inger, Environmental Defense. Although these reviewers provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the conclusions or the recommendations, nor did they see the final draft of the report before its release. The review of this report was overseen by Robert Wetzel of the University of North Carolina, and by Richard Conway (retired) of the Union Carbide Corporation. Appointed by the National Research Council, they were responsible for ensuring that an independent examination of the report was carried out in accordance with NRC institutional procedures and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content of this report rests entirely with the authoring committee and the NRC.
Conceptually and practically, adaptive management should provide a useful path forward for the Corps as it seeks to achieve its environmental restoration as well as economic development mandate. Yet, this is not a well-trodden path—indeed there may be several paths to try. For the Corps to meet these operational and organizational challenges, it may have to extend its traditional rallying cry to “Essayons, observons, et adaptons”—let us try, observe, and adapt. Our panel gained an appreciation of the commitment of Corps of Engineers staff in meeting contemporary water resources needs, and we offer our report in the spirit of helping the agency make the transition to a new era of water resources planning and management.
Donald F. Boesch,