The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has long experienced successes in designing and constructing federal water resources projects, and the agency enjoyed a long period during which its engineering expertise and decisions were respected and often deferred to. The setting of federal water resources planning and management, however, changed markedly during the late twentieth century. Federal spending on water projects declined markedly, public scrutiny and concerns over environmental impacts continued to increase, and project management assumed a more interdisciplinary character. Paradoxically, it was often great Corps successes that contributed to economic development and growth of supporting social institutions, which now understandably resist change.
New water resources projects will continue to be implemented, some of which will continue to provide traditional benefits related to navigation and flood control; however, given the large degree of influence that Corps civil works projects exert on the nation’s hydrologic systems, management of the infrastructure has become a more important issue. Moreover, present and future civil works projects are being and will be constructed to achieve a broader range of objectives, especially ecosystem restoration. The Corps has made some changes in response to these shifting conditions, but the pace and the scale of these changes have challenged the ability of a large organization like the Corps to fully adapt to them.
If the Corps is to adjust successfully to this contemporary setting, it will need to change from an agency geared almost exclusively to constructing new projects, to one that with broader concerns and that emphasizes the importance of managing an existing water control infrastructure in a context of broadening social objectives. As this report has explained, the adaptive management approach provides a basis for anticipating and adjusting to present uncertainties and future changes. Adaptive management does not represent a panacea for solving all water conflicts and management challenges, and it may eventually be replaced by different, more promising management paradigm, but it currently holds
good prospects for helping the Corps adjust to future challenges and unforeseen changes. The nation will continue to need credible engineering expertise to help manage its existing water control infrastructure. If the Corps is to provide that expertise, its planning orientation, functions, and activities will require the types of changes to the adaptive type of approaches recommended in this report.
If the Corps is to develop the approaches and capabilities required for twenty-first century water resources management, it will need assistance from the administration and from the Congress. The Corps must have the resources and authorities to apply its knowledge and capabilities to today’s complex water management problems, including interactions with the public and other agencies. The administration and the Congress must provide clearer advice regarding national priorities within a large body of overlapping and potentially conflicting laws and authorities that often encumbers Corps decision making. The administration and the Congress must provide resources for the execution of new Corps activities—such as evaluating ecological and economic outcomes of project operations—that are essential to sound water management according to contemporary principles and knowledge. This type of support will be essential to refocusing and strengthening the Corps’ management capabilities, and to helping the agency support the sound water management practices that will be of continued importance to the nation.