Prospects for Adaptive Management in the Corps
This chapter identifies changes to Corps operating policies, programs, and organizational structure that could be useful in promoting adaptive management practices within the agency and within its existing and future water projects. As discussed, some of these changes can be initiated and promoted by the Corps, but others will require direction and guidance from the Congress, and the assistance and support of the administration, the Congress, and the states.
COMPONENTS OF ADAPTIVE MANAGEMENT
Evaluations and Operations
The Corps’ civil works program for water resources traditionally focused on constructing new projects. But because of declining budgets for federal water development, declining public support, and a decreasing number of favorable project sites, this traditional focus is in a state of flux. This changing context suggests that in the future, operations and maintenance of existing infrastructure will become an increasingly important part of the Corps work program. Identifying operation schemes that meet today’s needs and preferences and that can be adjusted to changing conditions will require monitoring of project impacts, flexibility to make operational changes, and close cooperation with other agencies and with the public. As discussed in Chapter 2 and elsewhere in this report, monitoring and evaluation of project outcomes are core adaptive management principles. These post-construction assessments could include the monitoring of ecological, economic, or other relevant variables, as well as broader evaluations of project or program effectiveness. Post-construction evaluations should be a standard for the adaptive management of Corps projects and systems (Recommendation 1).
The Corps continues to gain experience with the concept and practice of adaptive management, and in some places—such as the Upper Mississippi—the agency’s responsiveness to stakeholder input may be enhancing public trust in the agency. There is much to be learned about how to successfully incorporate the concept, and the Corps should continue to move forward in its collaborative efforts. The agency could, for example, publicize examples where stakeholder-driven adaptive management actions led to beneficial effects that were largely unanticipated, and seek to learn from past experiences throughout the agency. Stakeholder and agency involvement should begin at the start of adaptive management programs and should include stakeholder participation in periodic review of monitoring results and management models. The Corps’ experiences with Shared Vision Modeling, which involves stakeholders in assessing possible outcomes through models of assumptions and key processes, provide similar examples of useful approaches.
Resources and related support from the administration and Congress have been fundamental to establishing adaptive management programs in Florida’s Everglades and in the Colorado River below Glen Canyon Dam. This type of support from the administration and the Congress has also been essential in promoting ecosystem monitoring and inter-agency collaboration on the Upper Mississippi River. A lack of this type of support for broad, meaningful stakeholder participation may be contributing to decision making gridlock on the Missouri River. The administration and the Congress should ensure that adequate resources are provided to promote sustained, meaningful stakeholder collaboration within adaptive management initiatives. Stakeholder collaboration should be an integral component in the adaptive management of Corps projects and systems (Recommendation 2).
Independent Expert Review
In addition to differences of opinion among stakeholders, the complexities of ecosystems may yield variations in scientific results and differences of scientific opinion. Ecosystem monitoring programs and physical, biological, and economic models do not always yield results that are interpreted the same way by all scientists and other interested parties. Such ambiguities can hinder adaptive management’s cycle of actions, observations, evaluations, learning, and new actions. Moreover,
as recent critiques of the adequacy of the science programs supporting adaptive management in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan illustrate, independent review can point out inadequacies in modeling, monitoring, and assessment that may result from inertia or inadequate interagency coordination. Although such independent advice is useful and increasingly common in some circles, the use of experts will not eliminate the uncertainties that are endemic to most management decisions. Agencies and decision makers will often have to use their best judgment in adaptive management programs; however, independent experts can validate the assumptions and reasoning involved. Independent experts should be periodically enlisted to provide advice on Corps adaptive management initiatives (Recommendation 3).
A CENTER FOR ADAPTIVE MANAGEMENT
Sound U.S. water resources management in the future will generally require organizations with a broader mix of disciplinary expertise than was employed in twentieth century water resources decision making. Demands for traditional Corps programs in navigation, flood risk management, and coastal protection will continue. Much of the infrastructure to serve these needs has been constructed, and the construction of large amounts of new infrastructure does not appear likely because of, among other reasons, declining civil works appropriations (USACE, 2001). If the Corps is to make a successful transition to focusing on better management of existing infrastructure, it will need to effectively integrate environmental, social, and economic considerations and changes into operational decisions.
Engineers and engineering concepts will be important in supporting management policies and actions; but the Corps’ future engineering needs will continue to broaden to encompass fields such as systems analysis, operations research, environmental engineering, and decision support systems. Previous studies of the Corps of Engineers (e.g., NRC, 1999b), reviews of other U.S. water management organizations (Jacobs and Wescoat, 2002), and assessments of water management organizations in the developing nations (Scudder, 1994) all suggest that better integration of economic and environmental considerations into water resources projects requires adequate staff expertise in environmental and social sciences. Not only should the Corps ensure that is has access to this type of expertise in order to implement adaptive management, but these experts should be meaningfully included at all stages of project
management and planning. If adaptive management concepts and practices are to be consistently and comprehensively implemented through the Corps, and if adaptive management programs are to continually improve, the Corps must have a nucleus of interdisciplinary expertise to track lessons within the agency, stay abreast with current practices, and enhance the flow of knowledge within the agency and between the Corps and external experts. This is not to suggest that the Corps lacks knowledge of adaptive management and must recruit new staff members. Many Corps staff members are familiar with adaptive management techniques and many staff members have experience in working with the concept in settings like the Florida Everglades. The issue is that agency-wide guidance for adaptive management (such as a “best practices” guide) has not been developed, lessons from Corps district and division offices are not being meaningfully shared among these offices and through the agency, and staff are not specifically tasked to follow developments in the professional literature or adaptive management experiences in the United States and around the world. These organizational components and documents are essential if adaptive management is to be effectively implemented within the Corps. If adaptive management concepts are to be adequately developed and promoted, the Corps will need to have a cadre of staff dedicated to these tasks on a full-time basis. The Corps of Engineers will also need a stronger and more focused effort in staying abreast of conceptual developments in the professional scientific literature, and in tracking experiences across the United States, around the world, and within the Corps. If more attention and resources are not devoted to a more systematic process for implementing adaptive management through the agency, information essential for useful adaptive management applications will not be systematically gathered, analyzed, and applied.
One alternative for ensuring more systematic progress with adaptive management would be to establish interdisciplinary adaptive management teams within each Corps District office. A limitation of this option is that it is not yet known how many staff, and what types of expertise, can most effectively implement and sustain adaptive management practices through the Corps. This option thus poses the possibility of devoting too many staff (in a period of tight budgets) to adaptive management efforts. In addition, the resources required for this effort are likely beyond current budgetary limits. Another option would be to assemble a team of experts from outside the Corps to convene adaptive management workshops at Division and District offices. This would not require the hiring of new staff, and the expert team could be quickly assembled and
the workshops convened in a relatively short time period. Although such workshops could complement the development of adaptive management within the Corps, they would not ensure sustained, long-term progress within the agency—which is essential if adaptive management is to be useful to the Corps. External experts may also have limited knowledge of Corps planning guidance and project operations, which may limit the effectiveness of advice provided in a short-term, workshop setting.
Yet another alternative would be to establish a Center for Adaptive Management within the Corps. The Center would be a small, interdisciplinary group with expertise in adaptive management principles and applications. It should work with Corps district or division offices in helping understand ways in which adaptive management concepts and actions can be implemented. It would not itself implement adaptive management of specific projects, but rather would assist Corps district-level staff in the design, implementation, and review of adaptively-managed projects and programs. Examples of specific tasks for the Center might include:
develop agency-wide guidance on adaptive management approaches and best practices;
supply training, facilitation, and assistance to district planners and managers in developing adaptive management schemes and monitoring designs;
evaluate progress, limitations, and successes of adaptive management programs, such as those in the Everglades, the Missouri River, and coastal Louisiana, with the objective of improving approaches and outcomes;
facilitate sharing of information concerning adaptive management throughout the agency. The Center should also seek to develop collaborative relations with agencies beyond the Corps working with adaptive management (e.g., U.S. Department of the Interior), and ;
review outcomes of stakeholder participation in adaptive management.
Potential drawbacks to concentrating expertise within a center exist, such as a possible over-reliance on the center to implement adaptive management, or a lack of familiarity within the center of local conditions important to adaptive management efforts. The Corps could, however, employ a modest amount of resources to considerable benefit by employing adaptive management concepts and experience consistently through-
out the organization. Based on the foregoing considerations, this third alternative is the preferred choice.
Congress should establish a Corps of Engineers Center for Adaptive Management (Recommendation 4). The Center should be initially established for a relatively short (e.g., five years) term, with its progress and effectiveness periodically evaluated. Periodic review and evaluation can be especially important in helping better understand the level of resources and staff necessary to promote useful adaptive management applications through the agency. The Center for Adaptive Management should be operated and funded according to adaptive management principles: it should start as a modest and carefully planned effort that should be periodically evaluated and adjusted accordingly.
ROLES OF THE ADMINISTRATION AND CONGRESS
Legislation and Priorities
As illustrated in this report’s case studies, the Corps often operates in contexts of internally-inconsistent legislation and operating authorities, or without a clear process for re-setting management objectives and priorities. As new laws and authorizations have been added to the Corps' list of responsibilities over the years, the degree to which new obligations are consistent with pre-existing obligations has not been carefully evaluated, nor have existing objectives been revisited and adjusted accordingly. This has resulted in some situations in which existing project authorizations are not fully consistent with new project authorizations. For example, 1930 and 1945 authorizations to provide nine-foot navigation channels on the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, respectively, have not been adjusted to incorporate subsequent authorized purposes and shifting social preferences and priorities.
The accretion of potentially inconsistent authorizations and legislation can contribute to the management gridlock that characterizes many U.S. river systems (some of the gridlock can also be attributed to conflicting stakeholder goals and preferences). These impasses must be broken either by Congress or by the courts. In August 2003, for example, a federal district court in Minnesota resolved this type of legal ambiguity on the Missouri River, affirming a July 2003 injunction that ordered the Corps to reduce summer flows on the Missouri River in order to comply with the Endangered Species Act. Situations in which the limits of the Corps’ obligations and authorities are not clear can hinder the
agency’s adaptive management efforts. A clearer sense of water policy priorities from the administration and Congress would provide the Corps a better sense of limits and priorities within its adaptive management efforts. A line agency like the Corps of Engineers cannot legitimately resolve such conflicts; but because the Corps often finds itself in the midst of such conflicts, its attention to and resources for other, more appropriate actions (such as adaptive management) are diverted. The administration and the Congress should help resolve conflicts and inconsistencies within the body of national water policies, and should clarify water management objectives that it wishes the Corps to pursue (Recommendation 5).
Legal authorities that govern Corps project operations present barriers to the agency’s move toward adaptive management. The Corps is currently tasked to construct projects that are often tailored to the interests of a local project sponsor. Post-construction operations of Corps projects are often turned over to a non-federal sponsor. Adaptive management will entail a broadening operational and management emphasis within the Corps. New Corps projects will continue to be constructed, but adaptive management will require a stronger emphasis on post-construction monitoring, evaluation, stakeholder participation, and operational adjustments and changes. Examples of “continuing authorities” that allow the Corps to review and modify project operations without seeking additional congressional authorization include the authorization for the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Program, a “Section 1135” authority from the 1986 Water Resources Development Act, and a “Section 216” authority from the 1970 Flood Control Act.
These existing authorities, however, were not explicitly designed to promote adaptive management principles and ongoing, iterative processes of monitoring, evaluation, and operational adjustments. If adaptive management is to be meaningfully implemented within the Corps, a stronger and more explicit continuing authority(s) will help reorient the agency from a traditional emphasis on project construction, to a broader program that includes post-construction monitoring, stakeholder participation, and operational adjustments. Thorough and comprehensive (environmental, economic, and social) evaluation of post-construction outcomes is essential to ensuring efficient project operations. Existing current authorities do allow for some degree of this; but they lack specificity
and they were primarily enacted before the Corps began implementing adaptive management principles. A new continuing authority for the Corps should emphasize the importance of the type of adaptive management principles discussed in this study (see Chapter 2).
Congress should provide a new study authority and direction that will increase the Corps’ ability to monitor and evaluate post-construction changes and periodically adjust operations of existing projects in order to increase overall project benefits (Recommendation 6). The new authorization should require periodic appraisal of project effectiveness and operational modifications. Congress should also appropriate sufficient funding (with appropriate cost sharing by cosponsors) for post-construction monitoring and evaluation of environmental and economic objectives and subsequent outcomes. These recommendations do not assume any change in the present division of responsibilities regarding operation and maintenance. They do assume stakeholder participation in post-construction adaptive management activities (see also the report from the 216 Study coordinating committee for additional details regarding a new Corps of Engineers study authority).
Resources for Adaptive Management
Funding of Corps of Engineers projects is governed by cost-sharing formulae that typically require resources from a local sponsor; these local sponsors are often—and understandably—reluctant to support studies and operations that do not address their specific needs. The cost-sharing nature of Corps projects, however, may inhibit adaptive management practices, as sponsors for adaptive management programs (vs. specific projects) may be difficult to identify. Although cost-sharing arrangements offer some advantages, successful implementation of adaptive management in the Corps may require adjustments to the cost-shared nature of Corps projects. Current policy guidance and budgeting procedures also inhibit adaptive management practices. In addition, most projects require a local sponsor to share in the initial costs of the project and in most cases assume full responsibility of post implementation costs.
Adaptive management represents a process that is qualitatively different than traditional civil works construction, and in some ways represents a paradigm shift for the Corps, as well the administration and Congress. Adaptive management will entail changes in operational styles, organizational accountability, and appropriations. Implementation of
adaptive management for existing projects does not represent a traditional Corps of Engineers “project.” Furthermore, even though some components of adaptive management will entail new costs, adaptive management efforts should also seek to build upon previous and existing investments. Adaptive management will also often entail benefits that extend (spatially) beyond a local water project, which runs counter to the current process in which the Corps works closely with a specific cost-sharing local sponsor. In addition, under current authorization-appropriation procedures, federal funds are allocated to the Corps primarily on a project-by-project basis. The process of appropriating federal funds to the Corps of Engineers may thus need to be revisited if adaptive management is to be efficiently implemented and sustained. The administration and the Congress should thus consider developing new cost sharing formulas in order to effectively apply adaptive management principles to new and existing projects.
In addition to the willingness of the Corps, cooperation from other arms of the executive branch (including the Council on Environmental Quality and the Office of Management and Budget) and the Congress to support adaptive management concepts is also necessary. It may be possible to obtain a general concurrence regarding the need to accommodate uncertainty by “learning while doing.” Stronger commitments to adaptive management, however, may be stymied because of concerns that it may entail rising costs over time in a political environment that encourages firm cost estimates. Longer-term cost savings and benefits that adaptive management aims for through monitoring, analysis, and communication are often not readily apparent in its implementation stages. Reviews of previous adaptive management efforts demonstrate that the failure to conduct and maintain adequate monitoring is a principal reason why adaptive management fails (Walters, 1997). Congress should thus allocate funding and personnel resources to help support and sustain an adaptive management program within the Corps (Recommendation 7).
As this section has described, current policy guidance and budgeting procedures inhibit adaptive management practices. In the case of new Corps projects, the Corps has chosen to limit adaptive management expenditures to no more than three percent of the overall project cost and to a limited duration. In addition, most projects require a local sponsor to share in initial project costs and assume full responsibility of all post implementation costs. Adaptive management is a process that is different than traditional brick and mortar civil works construction, and it will often entail benefits that extend beyond the interests of a local project co-
sponsor. The administration and the Congress should thus consider revising cost sharing formulas to promote the application of adaptive management principles (Recommendation 8).
Even though interagency cooperation poses many challenges, some interagency water management programs or collaborations mandated by Congress have been useful. The Upper Mississippi Environmental Management Program (EMP), created in the 1986 Water Resources Development Act, is operated with the cooperation of the Corps and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey. The EMP has sponsored wetland restoration projects and, through its ecosystem monitoring component, provided much of the scientific basis for the 1999 Upper Mississippi River ecological status and trends report (USGS, 1999). The interagency cooperation brokered through the EMP has helped the Corps, the U.S. Department of the Interior, and state agencies in the Upper Mississippi River initiate experimental drawdowns. The interagency Louisiana Coastal Wetlands Conservation and Restoration Task Force operating under the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act has planned and implemented numerous smaller restoration projects and, together with the state, produced the more comprehensive 2050 Plan. The Departments of the Army, Interior, Commerce, Agriculture, and the Environmental Protection Agency are represented on the Task Force and these same agencies are involved in the Louisiana Comprehensive Coastwide Ecosystem Feasibility Study. On the other hand, recent criticisms from the General Accounting Office regarding the inadequacy of interagency coordination in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan demonstrate that conflicts in agency priorities and limitations of interagency decision making can be significant obstacles in even well-funded programs. Beyond programs in which the Corps participates, in 1995 Congress created the Adaptive Management Program for managing the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. The AMP has convened agencies, tribes, and interest groups for discussions on science-based management of the Colorado River ecosystem. In some instances, federal and state legislative action may be needed to create institutions to promote ecosystem restoration.
Inter-agency arrangements for natural resources management are not cure-alls and have not always resulted in expected improvements in, for example, ecological conditions. They have, however, provided fora for
dialogue, have helped improve scientific understanding, and have encouraged communication among stakeholder groups. In some settings, memoranda of agreement may be useful to assign authority and responsibility among agencies, and to establish a dispute resolution procedure(s). Particularly in complex, inter-jurisdictional ecosystem restoration projects, participation of other federal and state resource management agencies may be essential, either because of their stewardship responsibilities or their capacity to contribute to monitoring and assessment needed for adaptive management. Although the Corps has a great deal of expertise germane to adaptive management, the agency likely does not possess the collective scientific expertise necessary to implement and sustain the multifaceted components of adaptive management. Complexities of program execution and the limitations of the Corps’ resources will require the Corps to collaborate with other agencies if adaptive management is to be efficiently pursued. Examples of federal agencies with whom the Corps should collaborate include the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Park Service, NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Geological Survey. The administration should strengthen federal interagency coordination mechanisms for large-scale water resources and coastal management efforts at both the national and regional levels (Recommendation 9).
BROADER OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPLEMENTING ADAPTIVE MANAGEMENT
Several areas of activity beyond the Corps’ construction and ecosystem restoration programs offer opportunities for implementing adaptive management. These include smaller projects conducted under existing congressional authority, management of existing water resource infrastructure (especially dam reauthorization and deauthorization), and permitting activities. In these cases, adaptive management approaches may facilitate improvement of individual projects and development of an expanding knowledge base for improving future project operations.
Small Projects Authority
Small project programs are excellent candidates for experimentation and concerted learning in connection with adaptive management efforts. The Corps has the ability to change administration of these programs to allow for cost-shared modifications in project features based on long-term monitoring results of physical project outputs and ecological outcomes. Such changes would require no additional congressional authority. These changes could generate important demonstrations of the value of adaptive management and provide a basis for seeking additional congressional authority to revisit completed and ongoing projects that could benefit from adaptive management. Such settings would also allow the Corps to gain experience with smaller-scale and less controversial projects, lessons from which could be valuable in their efforts in more controversial situations.
Managing Existing Infrastructure
Effective operations of existing dams and other water resource infrastructure in the United States presents a challenge and an opportunity to the Corps and other federal water management agencies, as well as state and local governments and non-governmental organizations. Three key issues in management of this infrastructure could benefit from management criteria or guidelines that incorporate adaptive management: (1) monitoring and evaluating dam and project performance; (2) retrofitting, redesigning and operating dams to improve infrastructure safety and project performance; and (3) decommissioning, where warranted by costs and benefits. The Corps, with its varying involvement in design, permitting, construction, and operation of many of these structures, is the logical agency to assume the necessary responsibilities.
Passage of the Dam Safety and Security Act in 2002 points to increased congressional concern for dam safety issues. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) coordinates federal dam safety efforts, helps finance research, coordinates technology transfer, and assists states with their dam safety programs (which cover approximately 95 percent of dams listed in the National Inventory of Dams). FEMA is not responsible, however, for improving dam safety technology or the engineering and science on which that technology is based. That would be a logical responsibility for the Corps, in cooperation with other organizations.
A promising area of application of adaptive management involves dam decommissioning and de-authorization. Although a dam cannot be incrementally removed, adaptive learning based upon the experiences with past dam removals should be used to refine the criteria and approaches for removals, and to improve methods for post-removal mitigation. As the Corps Inventory of Dams describes, over 75,000 dams have been erected on U.S. waterways, many of which are outdated, unsafe, and no longer active. Some of these structures have also caused significant impacts on river ecosystems. In recent years, the decommissioning and removal of dams has become more common. Hundreds of U.S. dams were removed in the 1990s, and removal of many more is being considered. Not all of these are small structures. A seminal case was the Quaker Neck Dam on North Carolina’s Neuse River, where the Corps worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other federal and state agencies to remove a dam that had blocked migratory fish routes since 1952. In addition to ecological impacts, maintenance of Quaker Neck Dam had become hazardous and expensive. After the Corps designed alternative means of providing cooling water to the related power plant, a cooperative effort resulted in dam removal in 1997-98.
Adaptive management could also be usefully applied to the Corps' permitting activities. For example, the Corps is responsible for evaluating applications for wetland fill permits under Clean Water Act section 404. Corps regulations prohibit any filling unless appropriate and practicable steps have been taken to minimize adverse impacts on aquatic ecosystems. When the Corps issues a permit, it requires that discharges to wetlands be avoided or minimized to the extent practicable. Remaining impacts must be mitigated, often through compensatory mitigation, in which other wetlands are created or restored. An previous NRC committee concluded that compensatory mitigation was not fulfilling its goal of achieving no net loss of wetlands because clear performance standards were not being defined within permits and performance was not being monitored (NRC, 2001a). Although detailed evaluation of the regulatory program is beyond this report’s scope, adaptive management principles could help the Corps improve its wetland mitigation program. Performance goals could be set in permits, and permitees could be required to implement a monitoring program focused on wetland functions. Alternatively or additionally, the Corps could conduct a retrospective study(s) of
mitigation projects, and use the results to improve design of future mitigation efforts. Adaptive management principles could also be used to guide permitting decisions and mitigation requirements in which cumulative impacts are an issue, such as where multiple permits are issued for the same water body.
The Corps should begin to develop a framework for adaptive management guidance throughout the organization. Without agency-wide guidance, the Corps’ current adaptive management efforts are more likely to proceed in fits and starts. Moreover, the failure to better document and share lessons from initial experiences represents lost opportunities. In developing operational guidance for adaptive management, the Corps should provide guidance concerning the degree to which adaptive management is applicable to various projects. Some Corps programs could benefit simply from periodic, adaptive re-evaluation. Passive adaptive management could be applied to projects not easily replicated or otherwise based on robust models of performance. A more active adaptive management approach, exploring multiple project or operational alternatives, could be used where there is a high level of uncertainty about the outcomes of these alternatives.
In many ways, adaptive management represents a paradigm shift for the Corps. Given the usual inertia in large organizations like the Corps, the approach will not be systematically implemented throughout the agency immediately. As the Corps proceeds with its efforts in adaptive management, a Center for Adaptive Management that tracks adaptive management experiences within the Corps, shares lessons throughout the organization, and develops general adaptive management definitions and principles, would be valuable. The Corps should also shift its traditional orientation from primarily constructing new projects, to closer monitoring and evaluation and more efficient operations of existing projects. The Corps should seek the advice of experts from outside the agency as it moves forward with adaptive management.
Beyond the Corps, support for adaptive management from the Congress and the administration is essential. The Corps should have more authority and flexibility in the area of post-construction activities, such as ecosystem monitoring and project evaluation. The Corps also operates in confusing legal settings where it is obligated to uphold dozens, if not hundreds, of pieces of legislation and other guidance. In these set-
tings, the agency often appears reluctant to depart from the status quo, but lacks clear direction from the administration and Congress on the appropriate way forward. Nevertheless, the Corps is attempting some adaptive management activities, such as navigation pool drawdowns, habitat restoration projects, and ecosystem monitoring. These are steps in the right direction, and small steps can be useful in learning more about ecological responses, building interagency partnerships, and establishing trust with stakeholder groups. But for larger gains from adaptive management to be realized, the Congress and the administration must step forward and resolve internally-inconsistent legislation and guidance, establish or invigorate interagency fora, commit support to science-based, collaborative programs, and adjust traditional authorization and appropriations processes.