In the late 1980s the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began considering the possibility of extending several locks on the Upper Mississippi River-Illinois Waterway (UMR-IWW) as a means for reducing waterway traffic congestion. A reconnaissance study, begun in 1989, led to a feasibility study, which began in 1993 and continued for the next 11 years. As the UMR-IWW feasibility study progressed, the Corps confronted several particularly difficult technical, organizational, and political challenges. The planning process finally ended in December 2004 when the Chief of Engineers, Lieutenant General Carl Strock, sent the final Chief’s Report to the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works for review prior to submission to Congress. The recommended plan included a $5.3 billion program for ecosystem restoration and a $2.4 billion program for navigation infrastructure improvements to be expended over the next several decades.
During the course of the feasibility study, the Corps developed and applied several novel planning approaches and methods. There was an effort to develop:
a spatial equilibrium model for grain shipments and prices (the ESSENCE model);
a federal interagency Principals Group was established in 2001 to enhance communication among the Corps and other federal agencies with UMR-IWW management responsibilities;
a regional coordinating group was established, involving federal agencies, state resources agencies, and nongovernmental organizations;
the Corps commissioned a report that presented several scenarios of future U.S. grain exports; and
the Corps explored means for adaptive management on the UMR-IWW, not only for ecosystem restoration activities but also for determining the timing and extent of navigation-related construction activities.
To obtain independent technical review of the evolving feasibility study, the Corps sought the advice of two National Research Council (NRC) committees. A first, Phase I, committee was established in 2000 to review the economic aspects of the draft feasibility study. That committee issued a single report in early 2001. A second, Phase II, committee was convened in 2003 to provide a more comprehensive technical review of the ongoing feasibility study, which had been broadened to include a significant ecosystem restoration component. The Phase II committee issued two reports in 2004: a first report that provided the committee’s initial impressions of the draft feasibility study and a second report that constituted a more in-depth review.
This is the third and final report from the NRC Phase II committee. This committee’s first two reports focused on the analytical and technical aspects of the Corps feasibility study. This third report assumes a different point of view, as it considers several broader issues that affected the Corps’ feasibility study. The statement of task for this third report also differs from the statement of task that was envisioned at the outset of this project. As stated in this committee’s first report, the committee’s third report was originally intended to “review the Corps’ responses to advice from the NRC Upper Mississippi River-Illinois Waterway studies (i.e., the reports of this committee and the NRC 2001 Phase I committee)” (NRC, 2004a). As this committee approached its third and final report, the Corps and the NRC agreed that a more useful and appropriate charge for this committee’s third report would focus on the NRC’s recent review of the Corps of Engineers’ planning methods and approaches.
These NRC studies are referred to as the “216” studies, as they were conducted in response to a congressional request in Section 216 of the Water Resources Development Act of 2000 (WRDA 2000). Five reports on Corps of Engineers planning were issued as part of the 216 study activity: peer review (2002), adaptive management, analytical methods, river basins and coastal systems, and a report from a “coordinating committee.” These latter four reports were all issued in 2004; Chapter 2 of this committee’s report reviews and summarizes all five 216 study reports.
The committee was requested to consider the 216 studies, as well as other planning issues that affect UMR-IWW system management. Accordingly, this report addresses the following topics: interagency coordination, UMR-IWW authorities and legislation, adaptive management, valuation of nonmarket benefits and costs, and streamlining of Corps planning studies. The report also discusses the importance of coordination between the Institute of Water Resources (IWR) and district planners, and the roles of peer review in the feasibility study process; however, no formal recommendations are offered on these subjects. The formal statement of task for this report is included verbatim in Chapter 1.
To promote interagency coordination among the key federal agencies with UMR-IWW responsibilities, a Principals Group consisting of senior-level representation from the Corps, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Transportation, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Fish and Wildlife Service was established in 2001. This group was formed to ensure that changes and updates in the feasibility study were being shared in an interagency forum. Given the importance of the Principals Group, and given that other, similar bodies have been established to promote interagency collaboration in other U.S. river and aquatic systems, a formal, independent review of how the Principals Group affected the feasibility study process would be useful. Part of this review should consider similarities and differences between the UMR-IWW Principals Group and other interagency water system management groups across the nation (examples include California’s CALFED program, the Glen Canyon Adaptive Management Program, the Louisiana Coastal Area Ecosystem Restoration Project, and the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force). The experiences from the Principals Group should be useful to future interagency cooperation on the UMR-IWW, and should be of interest to other such forums in the United States and in other regions of the world.
The Corps of Engineers should enlist the services of an independent investigator or a small group of investigators to review and assess the experience with the federal, interagency Principals Group for the UMR-IWW feasibility study. The investigator report should also consider experiences with other high-level interagency groups that have been assembled to help manage large U.S. river and aquatic systems.
UMR-IWW AUTHORITIES AND LEGISLATION
A key observation within the 216 study panel reports was that the Corps of Engineers today makes its planning decisions in accord with a large and diverse body of policies, legislation, executive branch guidance, regulations, and case law that constitute a de facto national water policy. In regard to the UMR-IWW, prominent examples of this large body of legislation include the 1930 Rivers and Harbors Act that authorized the 9-foot channel project on the Upper Mississippi River, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973, the Upper Mississippi River Management Act of 1986, and the numerous Water Resources Development and Flood Control Acts that authorized various water- and flood-related projects.
As pointed out in this committee’s second report (NRC, 2004b), these multiple directives for Upper Mississippi and Illinois River operations are not always fully
consistent with one another. This often requires the Corps to choose which authorization(s)—and therefore which group of river resource users—are to receive priority. These multiple acts and authorizations also have different implications for channel depths and river flows. An authorization to maintain a minimum 9-foot channel is clear enough; but other authorized purposes, such as the protection of endangered species habitat or improvements in river system ecology, may entail different river channel depths or river flows. Within this muddled legislative setting the Corps generally interprets the 1930 authorization for the 9-foot channel as the overriding authority in managing the UMR-IWW system.
Although some may argue that this type of policy ambiguity provides flexibility for the administration and the Congress in dealing with the multiple constituencies with interests in the UMR-IWW, the existence of conflicting directives places the Corps of Engineers—an executive branch line agency—in the uncomfortable position of choosing which constituency is to receive priority. Moreover, the primacy the Corps accords to the 9-foot channel in UMR-IWW management decisions effectively rules out several potential trade-offs (e.g., maintaining a navigation channel less than nine feet deep at some times of the year) between the commercial navigation sector and other related uses, such as boating and commercial and recreational fishing.
To help the Corps of Engineers and other federal and state agencies better manage and understand the federal intent for use of UMR-IWW resources, the administration and the Congress should clarify relative priorities among the multiple laws, executive branch guidance, and congressional reports that govern UMR-IWW management.
The Corps of Engineers made a strong effort to include adaptive management as an element within the UMR-IWW feasibility study. The Corps has employed adaptive processes in its manipulations of pool levels for both navigation system management and ecosystem restoration, and the agency should explore means to continue to learn from experience. There are many opportunities for the Corps to apply adaptive learning principles on the UMR-IWW. Examples are improving waterway traffic forecasting by comparing projections with actual flows, and by applying and learning from nonstructural measures to better manage waterway traffic congestion. Adaptive management is not simply a line item in a project budget or something to be implemented or set aside according to available resources, but rather a resources management approach that should become a central part of the Corps’ mode of operations. The attainment of more adaptive UMR-IWW operations and decisions will require resources, and it will require cooperation
among the Corps and other federal and state agencies. An adaptive management approach seeks to reduce uncertainties and better understand the complexities of ecosystem management; it also recognizes that mistakes will be made along the way and that adaptive management is not a perfect solution to managing water and related resources. It does, however, hold promise in helping to better understand ecosystem dynamics, connections with social and economic systems, and in identifying more flexible management decisions and regimes. It also encourages retrospective comparisons and evaluations in order to enhance system learning and decision making.
In moving forward with UMR-IWW adaptive management actions, it should be recognized that adaptive management is not a project add-on to be implemented, limited, or set aside according to budgetary constraints. Rather, it is a process and perspective that should become part of the organizational fabric. The administration and the Congress should support the Corps in its efforts to integrate adaptive concepts into the operations of its entire UMR-IWW portfolio, including ecosystem restoration projects, transportation infrastructure, and waterway traffic management. Retrospective comparisons and studies can improve future forecasts and other aspects of UMR-IWW decision making and should be seen as integral to an adaptive approach.
VALUATION OF NONMARKET BENEFITS AND COSTS
Many Corps of Engineers water resources projects deliver benefits and entail costs that cannot be easily measured in monetary terms. When projects have significant benefits or costs that have not been expressed in monetary units, the guidance provided by benefit-cost analysis to justify projects, rank alternatives, or allocate project funds—as required under current project evaluation guidelines—is often distorted. As a result, projects with large monetary benefits (e.g., conventional single-purpose water resource projects) are likely to be favored over those with large nonmonetary benefits (e.g., ecosystem restoration projects), regardless of their ultimate value to society.
In some instances within Corps planning studies the valuation of nonmarket benefits—namely, those from navigation improvements (congestion reduction)—has long been conducted and accepted. On the other hand, methods for the valuation of other types of nonmarket benefits—such as ecosystem restoration—are not typically applied in Corps planning studies. This is despite the fact that theoretically sound, credible methods exist for valuing some benefits of ecosystem restoration in monetary units, which allows for at least partial valuation of resources in most instances. As scientific knowledge accumulates, and in particular as more is
learned about linkages between ecosystem functions and services, opportunities for valuation of ecosystem services will expand.
The current state of ecosystem science and economic analysis clearly supports valuation of the benefits of ecosystem restoration. In some cases the valuation of these benefits can be as complete as with the benefits derived in more traditional projects, such as flood control and navigation projects. Even the valuation of some ecosystem restoration benefits will improve the quality of decision making for these projects. In many cases valuation of the most obvious benefits will be sufficient to demonstrate feasibility. In other cases even incomplete valuation may allow for a credible comparison of the remaining nonmonetary benefits against net monetary costs. In either case there is no reason to continue restricting applications of nonmarket methods to traditional categories. All Corps water project benefits and costs should be valued in monetary terms to the extent possible.
STREAMLINING CORPS PLANNING STUDIES
The length of the UMR-IWW feasibility report, including appendices, was measured in the thousands of pages. Documents of this size, written to address all necessary statutory and other guidance, tend to be cumbersome, poorly organized, overly ambitious, and difficult to fully comprehend. Some of these organizational and presentation problems stem from attempts to merge a complex planning study with a complex environmental impact study. Other problems arose from a failure to clearly delineate the scope of the study, which led to efforts to add large amounts of information and data that were of limited relevance. Not only did this make the study difficult to comprehend, but the size and poor organization of the report surely made it difficult for Corps staff to quickly edit and update documents through the course of the study.
The statute-based environmental impact assessment should not be confused with environmental issues and analyses that are integral to a water resources planning study and should be addressed therein. Considering the interplay between economic and environmental (and engineering and social) issues within a feasibility study, however, is a process separate from the conduct of an environmental impact statement. The former is part of a sound water resources planning study, while the latter is conducted pursuant to federal statute to determine the environmental impact of a proposed federal action.
To streamline the preparation of future complex Corps planning reports like the UMR-IWW feasibility study, to enhance their presentation, and to improve their readability, the following steps should be taken:
There should be a succinct and substantive summary of the key planning issues addressed in the report.
Although it is essential to integrate economic and environmental issues in to water project plans, the practice of merging of water project planning reports with environmental impact reports should be reconsidered. If these reports are to be merged, the process of integrating them should focus on presenting a clear understanding of the overall report, as well as linkages among its main components. Each of these types of reports presents considerable preparation and presentation complications, however, and in large, complex planning studies, the separation of the environmental impact assessment report from the feasibility and project planning reports should be considered.
For studies of this magnitude, a full-time staff—technical editor(s) and technical writer(s)—should be retained to oversee the report production and presentation process, including the display of Web-based documents.
Technical details of planning studies should not be included in the report’s main body but should be included in appendices, both on paper and in Web-based documents.