Improving UMR-IWW Resources Planning and Management
The 216 study reports offer numerous recommendations for improving review and planning procedures in Corps of Engineers water resources project planning studies. This chapter builds upon Chapter 2’s summary of those recommendations, focusing on concepts from the 216 reports that are especially relevant to UMR-IWW management: interagency coordination and study authorities, study authorizations and legislation, adaptive management on the UMR-IWW, valuation of nonmarket benefits and costs, streamlining Corps planning studies, coordination with the Institute for Water Resources, and peer review.
INTERAGENCY COORDINATION AND STUDY AUTHORITIES
Sectoral and Spatial Coordination
As pointed out in this committee’s first two reports, the UMR-IWW has several different uses and they have a variety of impacts on one another. Among the uses of the river (including its current lock and dam structures) and its floodplains are navigation, flood conveyance and storage, outdoor recreation, industrial and municipal water supply, waste assimilation, and maintenance of biological productivity and diversity. Sound management of the UMR-IWW would recognize linkages among different uses and consider trade-offs among management decisions in different sectors. Concerns over the limited degree of integration within the Corps’ UMR-IWW feasibility study were expressed in this committee’s second report (NRC, 2004b).
The Corps is only one of many water management organizations and users of the UMR-IWW. Effective coordination across water sectors and consideration of
cross-sectoral impacts depends upon coordination among such groups as local municipalities, state resources agencies, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Corps.
As pointed out in this committee’s second report (NRC, 2004b), the notion of comprehensively managing a river basin as a single unit dates back to at least the late nineteenth century, when John Wesley Powell advocated the use of watersheds to define political boundaries in the arid western United States. Many examples could be used to illustrate the importance of recognizing spatial linkages across a watershed or river basin. If levees are not constructed to a similar standard height, for example, one side of a river might be protected at the expense of flooding on the other side (Kelley, 1998). Levees that block off too many backwater areas in upstream locales can contribute to increased flood heights downstream. Reservoir and dam operations in upstream basin locations can affect downstream flows and users, and can result in upstream-downstream and interstate tensions. Urban development, population growth, and agriculture practices directly affect sediment load and movement, and water quality. Prolonged drought conditions across much of the western United States, for example, have contributed to interstate tensions regarding Colorado River dam operations (see Denver Post, 2005).
Planning across the UMR-IWW system should account for these types of linkages across space and across different water uses, both along the river’s main channel and across its tributary systems. On the UMR-IWW, water resources agencies ideally will consider not only how various activities affect one another along the mainstem Mississippi River. Furthermore, they should consider how water and land management issues in tributary systems, such as sediment transport and deposition, and sources and transport of nutrients and pollutants, affect water quality in the mainstem Mississippi River and ultimately the Gulf of Mexico.
UMR-IWW Interagency Coordination
As discussed in Chapter 2 the 216 reports call for better coordination among federal agencies, and for better coordination among federal agencies, state and local governments, nongovernmental organizations, and water resources users. The Adaptive Management Committee report, for instance, recommends a strengthening of federal interagency coordination mechanisms to promote adaptive management. The River Basins and Coastal Systems Committee report calls for greater attention to interagency collaboration. The Analytical Methods Committee report recommends that a body be charged to coordinate water resources policies and activities among the Administration, the Congress, the states, and federal agencies with water resources management responsibilities. Finally, the Coordinating Com-
ittee report recommends a process for resolving interagency differences and disputes.
Many aspects of the Corps’ restructured UMR-IWW feasibility study reflected concerted efforts aimed toward better interagency coordination and collaboration. At the policy level the Corps was instrumental in forming a federal interagency Principals Group that included senior-level representation from the Corps, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Transportation, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Fish and Wildlife Service. The Principals Group was created in 2001 and periodically convened representatives from these agencies to ensure that significant issues were addressed in an interagency setting and that the Corps’ evolving study had the support of other agencies.
Within the feasibility study the Corps convened over 30 governmental and nongovernmental organizations in the Upper Mississippi River region to discuss the study’s overall direction and to address specific issues as they arose in the course of the study. A stakeholder group—including other federal agencies, state resources agencies, and nongovernmental organizations—actively participated in the design of ecosystem restoration plans. The level of regional participation in the feasibility study is noteworthy. The Corps also conducted an ambitious campaign to promote collaboration among federal, state, and local agencies, and to promote public involvement in the development of alternatives.
The Principals Group itself may have been beneficial, but this committee’s investigations focused largely on the study’s analytical components and did not include examination of the structure or functions of the Principals Group. Interagency collaboration will continue to be important on the UMR-IWW, as well as in other large river and water systems in which the Corps is working (e.g., Florida Everglades, Missouri River). Current plans call for the Principals Group to be retained and to continue promoting interagency collaboration on the UMR-IWW.
Given the importance and prominence of the UMR-IWW Principals Group, an independent accounting of the group’s achievements, challenges, and future prospects would be relevant and useful. For example, if there were functions of the Principals Group that were particularly valuable or that could be improved, these could be applied to future UMR-IWW management decisions and processes. A clear understanding of the Principals Group charter and mandate, the extent to which this mandate was successfully executed, and the key challenges encountered in trying to realize that mandate, could also be of value. It would be instructive to know specific questions and tasks (if any) that were presented to the group, what data and information were provided by the Corps, what decisions were reached, and the extent to which they were followed. It would be useful to know how the Principals Group facilitated cooperation that might not have otherwise occurred, and whether the feasibility study benefited in any demonstrable way as a conesquence of the workings of the Principals Group. It also would be interesting to
learn to what extent the Principals Group discussed the concept of adaptive management, and whether the group discussed means by which adaptive principles could be employed in managing UMR-IWW resources.
Groups with similar mandates and structures to the UMR-IWW Principals Group have been established in several other river and aquatic ecosystems across the United States, such as California’s CALFED program, the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program, the Louisiana Coastal Area Ecosystem Restoration Project, and the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force. Although these efforts are seen by many participants and observers as useful, these views (which are not universal) are nearly always based on anecdote. A formal, independent review of the UMR-IWW Principals Group experience should be useful to other U.S. federal interagency initiatives for managing rivers and water resources systems, or even regions of the world with international river commissions or similar arrangements. A review of the UMR-IWW Principals Group should thus consider other U.S. interagency water management forums, and how similarities and differences between these various groups affect decision making and river management outcomes.
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.
Clarification of Authorities, Policies, and Other Legislation
Several of the 216 study reports summarized in Chapter 2 identified problems associated with the existence of a large number of policies, acts, authorities, and other directives related to water resources management that are not fully consistent with one another. These 216 panel reports thus issued calls, for example, to Congress and the administration to help clarify inconsistencies or to more carefully define priorities within this large body of national water “policy.” On the UMR-IWW, examples of this large body of legislation are the 1930 Rivers and Harbors Act that authorized the 9-foot channel project on the Upper Mississippi River, numerous Water Resources Development and Flood Control Acts that authorized various water- and flood-related projects, the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and the Upper Mississippi River Management Act of 1986.
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 as to which
authorization(s)—and therefore which group of river resource users—are to receive priority. Multiple acts and authorizations also have different implications for channel depths and river flows. For example, an authorization to maintain a minimum 9-foot channel is clear enough; but other authorized purposes, such as protection of endangered species habitat or improvements in river system ecology, may suggest different river channel depths or river flows in different seasons. 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 multiple constituencies in the UMR-IWW, the existence of conflicting directives places the Corps of Engineers—an executive-level line agency—in the uncomfortable position of choosing which constituency is to receive priority. Moreover, the primacy that the Corps accords to the 9-foot channel in UMR-IWW management decisions effectively rules out several potential trade-offs (e.g., maintaining an 8-foot channel at some times of the year) between commercial navigation and other related uses, such as boating and commercial and recreational fishing.
Another example of federal direction that should be revised and clarified is within the federal Principles and Guidelines (P&G), which has been unchanged since 1983. This 22-year-old document is regarded by many as the conceptual basis of U.S. federal water resources planning studies, yet it is silent on the subject of ecosystem restoration. The Corps adopted a National Ecosystem Restoration account in its 2000 planning guidance (USACE, 2000) as a legitimate project purpose and objective, yet the P&G continues to support single-purpose project planning dedicated to the maximization of National Economic Development. The report from the 216 study panel on analytical methods notes this and other shortcomings of the P&G, leading to a recommendation in that report that the P&G be revised (NRC, 2004d).
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 guidances, and congressional reports that govern UMR-IWW management.
The Corps of Engineers made strong efforts to include adaptive management as an element within the UMR-IWW feasibility study. As described in the 216 panel report on adaptive management, there are less and more formal versions of
the concept (e.g., passive and active adaptive management). There does not appear to be any adaptive management program that represents a global prototype. Nevertheless, several themes and components are widely seen as important to adaptive management. In its most succinct form adaptive management can be described as a process of learning while doing (Lee, 1999). An ideal adaptive approach would accept that management actions are impermanent and represent opportunities to learn more about the system at hand. Results from those management actions would be carefully monitored and evaluated, and then used to inform and adjust future actions.
Input from both scientists and stakeholders is increasingly viewed as essential to natural resources planning, particularly in situations characterized by conflict. This implies that some steps need to be closely followed in establishing a viable adaptive management program. Stakeholders (including water managers) should first agree on the key scientific and related water management questions to be pursued in connection with operating a project such as the UMR-IWW. Those agreed-upon questions then should be used to organize subsequent monitoring and evaluation efforts. Such prior agreement on questions that all interests want to see pursued is important to the independence of the scientific and management staff managing the learning and adaptive processes. The answers they develop may not be the ones preferred by all interests, but if the list of questions has been agreed to earlier, this will promote the independence (and perhaps a degree of protection) of the staff charged with evaluation and monitoring. When this process can persevere long enough for the project to perform under a wide range of natural conditions and human and social stresses, the result is the iterative learning cycle promoted by adaptive management.
Points listed in the 216 Adaptive Management Committee report that may have UMR-IWW applications are:
Adaptive management practices can be useful across a variety of scales and settings.
Although adaptive management has clear implications for managing ecosystems, it can be used to manage other types of systems, such as transportation infrastructure.
Adaptive management does not represent a panacea for water resources management yet it holds great promise for helping the Corps to better accommodate shifting social preferences and new scientific knowledge.
Adaptive management is not an end in itself, and its value ultimately will be measured by its ability to meet environmental, social, and economic goals and to enhance scientific knowledge.
A viable adaptive management process requires some level of agreement among participants; if there is no flexibility or willingness to compromise among stakeholders, the ability to manage adaptively will be sharply limited.
Adaptive management can be used as an approach in individual projects, but it also represents a broader management perspective.
The Corps has accumulated a wealth of experience in UMR-IWW system management over the years, and that record of experience should be reviewed as part of promoting more adaptive regimes in future UMR-IWW management. The Corps employs several elements of an adaptive approach in operating and maintaining the existing navigation infrastructure. Dam operations, for example, involve frequent measurements of water levels, weather forecasts, and traffic levels to make appropriate gate adjustments in response to this information. Maintenance and rehabilitation of the structures is based on periodic inspections. The Corps has conducted experimental drawdowns of navigation pools at Pool 8 near LaCrosse, Wisconsin. The Corps also has been a cosponsor of the federal-state Environmental Management Program (EMP), which includes a Habitat Rehabilitation Program (representing about two-thirds of EMP funding) and the Long Term Resource Monitoring Program (representing about one-third of EMP funding). Through these programs the Corps has gained experience in monitoring ecological changes and human impacts along the Upper Mississippi River. The value of ecosystem monitoring programs such as the EMP can be enhanced by ensuring good linkages between monitoring results and resource management decisions. These linkages can be strengthened through a process in which stakeholders and managers identify key questions and topics to be pursued through a monitoring program.
The UMR-IWW is a large interstate river system with numerous management agencies and users. Although such large, complex ecosystems could especially benefit from adaptive approaches, the size of such systems and the multiple managers, users, and points of views across the region pose challenges to implementing large-scale, multiple-stakeholder adaptive management. In such settings it may thus be useful to identify subsystems within the UMR-IWW of specific interest, such as the Pool 8 area mentioned above, in which managers and stakeholders can agree to learn from their experience over time. It should also be noted that many actions and factors that affect UMR-IWW management go beyond Corps of Engineers authorities and programs. For example, additional urban development in floodplain areas throughout the basin removes natural floodwater storage, which may contribute to an overall reduction in the river system’s flexibility and resilience to cope with floods. Nevertheless, many actions could be taken—by the Corps and by others—to help improve knowledge of UMR-IWW water-related sectors and to enhance management flexibility and social benefits.
Although the UMR-IWW feasibility study contemplated adaptive management
for both navigation improvements and ecosystem restoration, the report particularly highlighted the application of adaptive principles to the ecosystem restoration component. Ecosystem management is amenable to many of the principles articulated in the adaptive management literature; indeed, systems ecologists in the late 1970s generally are credited with formalizing adaptive management principles (see Holling, 1978). Adaptive principles have applications beyond river ecology, however, and examples of adaptive actions contemplated—but not necessarily implemented to date—by the Corps are:
Locks and dams can be extended in a phased process, with ongoing reassessment of demand for navigation and effectiveness of both nonstructural and structural means of reducing congestion.
Nonstructural means for better managing existing systems—such as waterway traffic management systems—can improve management efficiencies and squeeze more benefits from existing infrastructure, as well as enhance navigation system learning and adaptability.
An adaptive approach facilitates comparisons of models and forecasts with actual outcomes, as well as other types of ex post studies. For example, alternative locking rules generated by model predictions and consultation with navigation industry can be implemented to test how well they work in reality. Similarly, grain export forecasts can be compared with actual export levels to see how well they compare with real-world outcomes, with those comparisons being used in an iterative process to help inform and improve future forecasts.
The 216 Analytical Methods Committee report recommends that “periodic reviews of completed projects should be a routine part of Corps water project planning and management” (NRC, 2004d). The 216 Adaptive Management Committee report offers a similar recommendation: “Post-construction evaluations should be a standard for adaptive management of Corps projects and systems” (NRC, 2004c). Despite the importance of these types of retrospective investigations, they have historically not been a planning and design standard in water resources management. As national and global water expert Gilbert White pointed out years ago, “We could fill a large room with documents drawing up what are considered the best plans for an analysis of problems in river basins around the world … On the other hand, the literature about what has happened after any of the projects have been carried out can be assembled on one end of a small table. There is no tradition of making retrospective or evaluative studies of the consequences” (White, 1971). Successful implementation of adaptive management may rely upon effective ex post evaluations (Jacobs, 2002).
The Corps thus should consider ways to apply adaptive management principles to its entire UMR-IWW portfolio. As defined in the report from the 216 study
Coordinating Committee, this portfolio includes both physical infrastructure (e.g., locks, dams, and levees) and water and sediment resources controlled by that infrastructure. Effective adaptive approaches will learn from past outcomes and decisions through reflective, ex post evaluations. Comparisons of past forecasts with actual outcomes, and comparisons of anticipated project outcomes with actual outcomes, will enhance future modeling efforts and planning decisions.
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
Large infrastructure projects commonly involve external costs that are not reflected in market transactions. Typically these costs result from environmental impacts of the project, such as nonmarket, external economic costs imposed on users of environmental goods and services. Many public sector projects, such as most water resource and all ecological restoration projects, are distinguished by large nonmarket benefits as well as nonmarket costs. Failure to fully account for these nonmarket effects seriously distorts the evaluation of projects. Where nonmarket benefits predominate, for example, the result may be the underprovision of such benefits and the diversion of public moneys to projects that are ultimately less beneficial.
Prior to 1983, the federal Principles and Standards (or P&S) that governed water resource project evaluation had two coequal objectives: (1) National Economic Development (NED) and (2) Environmental Quality (EQ) (WRC, 1973). The design of the P&S was intended to promote full consideration of nonmarket environmental effects, both negative and positive, by means of a multicriteria decision-making approach. However, in 1983, the P&S document was rescinded and replaced with the Principles and Guidelines (P&G), which eliminated the EQ objective but retained the EQ account creating what is, in effect, a single objective
with an EQ constraint (WRC, 1983). This approach may limit negative external effects, but it does not necessarily recognize environmental improvements (such as ecosystem restoration) that may result from project implementation.
If nonmarket benefits provided by a project can be valued in monetary terms, they can be included in a project’s NED account. Methods for accomplishing this were well known in 1983, and the P&G document discusses the use of a variety of valuation methods for nonmarket goods, even providing an appendix describing contingent valuation methods (WRC, 1983). Furthermore, the Corps and other agencies had extensive experience with valuing the nonmarket benefits of conventional water supply projects, such as flood damage reduction and some kinds of recreational benefits. For these reasons one might have expected increased interest in valuing nonmarket benefits after 1983, but there is no evidence of such a trend. The report from the NRC 216 study panel on Analytical Methods notes that the “Corps was under little pressure from the administration to develop techniques for monetization of environmental goods and services" (NRC, 2004d, p. 61). Accordingly, little has been done to expand the valuation of nonmarket effects of Corps projects. This is true despite rapid progress in the evolution and application of such methods elsewhere.
The Corps’ primary civil works policy research unit is its Institute for Water Resources (IWR). Located at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, the IWR’s staff conducts research on a variety of economic, engineering, and environmental topics that pertain to Corps project operations and planning. The IWR has allocated substantial resources to developing methods for quantifying and valuing restoration benefits, often with little apparent impact on practice. This remains true despite major initiatives by the Corps in the area of ecosystem restoration, where the need for valuing nonmarket benefits seems large. A 2005 NRC report that considered the application of nonmarket valuation methods to ecosystem services concludes that “the current state of both ecological and economic analysis and modeling in many cases allows for estimation of the values people place on changes in ecosystem services” (NRC, 2005, p. 242). This section addresses the need for more extensive valuation of nonmarket effects of Corps projects, as well as various methods that are used for this purpose.
Valuation Methods for Ecosystem Restoration Benefits
Despite thorough understanding and extensive experience with a range of nonmarket valuation techniques, the application of these methods to ecosystem restoration has been controversial. In his seminal 1993 treatise on valuation methods A. Myrick Freeman expressed doubt that these techniques could be applied to “such things as biodiversity, the reduction of ecological risks, and the protection of basic ecosystem function … except where nonuse values are involved or where people use
ecosystems” (Freeman, 1993, p. 485). This concern was echoed in a more recent Corps of Engineers report, which pointed to “considerable technical obstacles [that] stand in the way of comprehensive monetary accounting of restoration project benefits” (Stakhiv et al., 2003, p. 129). The Stakhiv report notes both scientific obstacles (“in tracing the links between restoration actions and service outcomes underlying all possible routes to human benefits”) and economic obstacles (where benefits “have no close connection to marketed goods”).
The 2005 NRC report on the valuation of ecosystem services discusses the meaning of value for ecosystem services, noting a number of different dichotomous views: instrumental versus intrinsic, anthropocentric versus biocentric, and utilitarian versus deontological (NRC, 2005). These differing perspectives lead many to view ecosystem value as a complex, multidimensional property, not readily amenable to quantification or economic valuation. To perform such a valuation implies an anthropocentric, utilitarian concept of value that may not capture all relevant aspects of value, particularly for such things as “biodiversity, the reduction of ecological risks, and the protection of basic ecosystem function,” as noted by Freeman. The report notes that there are many situations in which even a partial or one-dimensional assessment of value is useful or necessary. In such cases economic valuation approaches can be employed.
The 2005 NRC report also reviews approaches to the economic valuation of ecosystem services, including careful analysis of available methods and various objecttions to their use (NRC, 2005). Particular attention is given to tracing the connections between ecosystem structure, functions, and the resulting ecosystem services. It should be noted that it is the flow of ecosystem services that has potential economic value to humans. Ecosystem services are those consequences of ecosystem functions that have the ability to enhance human well-being. Accordingly, people can be expected to express a willingness to pay for these services; that is, these services have an economic value. The 2005 NRC report concludes that although relationships between ecosystem structure and functions are not fully understood, much is known. It further concludes that there is less knowledge of the relationships between ecosystem functions and services. There is, however, considerable knowledge of the relationships between ecosystem services and economic value.
In examining valuation methods potentially applicable to ecosystem restoration outputs, the NRC report adopts the usual distinction between revealed preference methods (values are imputed from observed market behavior involving complementary goods) and stated preference methods (values are expressed directly by responses to a survey). Revealed preference methods include, for example, analysis of averting behavior, the travel-cost method, and hedonic price analysis. Commonly used stated preference methods include contingent valuation, contingent referendum, and conjoint analysis. The report also discusses some cutting-edge methods, such as combined revealed-stated preference methods and the use of computable general equilibrium models of ecologic-economic systems.
After considering objections, limitations, and capabilities, the report concludes:
Nonetheless, the current state of both ecological and economic analysis and modeling in many cases allows for estimation of the values people place on changes in ecosystem services, particularly when focused on a single service or a small subset of total services. Use of the (imperfect) information about these values is preferable to not incorporating any information about ecosystem values into decision-making (i.e., ignoring them), since the latter effectively assigns a value of zero to all ecosystem services (NRC, 2005, p. 242).
A review of the literature on this subject makes clear that reliable valuation of the totality of ecosystem services is well beyond present capabilities. This is true because the kind of anthropocentric, utilitarian approach implied by the focus on ecosystem services may not capture everything that is regarded as valuable. Further, current valuation methods may not be available for every ecosystem service in every situation. But it is equally clear that many ecosystem services that have use or nonuse value to humans can be credibly valued in monetary terms, given adequate understanding of the linkages from ecosystem structure to function, and function to ecosystem service. The 2005 NRC report notes the limitations to our understanding of these connections but also argues that much is known and that what is known is a sufficient basis for valuation in many cases. A frontier for research is the proper quantification of the links between improvements in such parameters as connectivity, nutrient cycling, critical habitat, and biodiversity and the resulting use and enjoyment humans derive from such improvements.
Current Status of Valuation Methods
When projects have significant benefits or costs that have not been expressed in monetary units, the ability of benefit-cost analysis to distinguish between projects that are beneficial and those that are not is limited to several specific situations. Otherwise, attempts to use benefit-cost analysis to justify projects, rank alternatives, or allocate project funds will lead to serious distortions. In general, projects with large net monetary benefits (conventional water resource projects) will be favored over those with large nonmonetary benefits (ecosystem restoration projects), regardless of their ultimate value to society. Even analyses of conventional water resources projects have generally failed to value all project effects, such as all environmental costs associated with the construction of a dam or channelization of a stream.
Well-understood methods exist for credibly valuing some benefits of ecosystem restoration in monetary units. These methods are not typically applied by the Corps of Engineers. 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 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 216 report from the panel on analytical methods noted that “Corps of Engineers planning studies, and attending appendices and other documents, are often hundreds of pages in length. This quantity of information often makes it difficult to identify and comprehend all important assumptions, alternatives, models employed, data sets, and other factors” (NRC, 2004d, p. 8). It was recommended that the Corps develop a standard summary document with a consistent format across all studies that would identify “key environmental and social issues, primary assumptions, alternatives considered and evaluated, objectives sought, benefits and costs (monetized and nonmonetized), trade-offs, and stakeholder perspectives and differences” (NRC, 2004d).
The volume of material presented in various drafts of the UMR-IWW feasibility study, measured in thousands of pages, made the report particularly difficult to comprehend. These types of federal resources planning documents are written to address all relevant statutory (e.g., National Environmental Policy Act) and other guidances. As a result they tend to be cumbersome, difficult to organize, and often confusing to the reader. Many important topics that were presented in appendices were not well integrated into the main report. For example, the Corps indicated verbally that its plans for restoration included navigation pool drawdown experiments (e.g., varying elevation of pool water levels). Unfortunately, most of the information about these experiments was contained in appendices and not noted in
the main report. Although the report contained an executive summary, the summary was difficult to follow and did not highlight and clearly present the key issues discussed in the report. As suggested by the report from the 216 panel on analytical methods, decision makers and analysts would have benefited from a summary document.
Some of these organizational and presentation problems stem from attempts to merge a complex planning study with complex environmental impact assessment. The statute-based environmental impact assessment should not be confused with the environmental analyses that are integral to a water resources planning study, and that should be addressed therein. This committee, for example, has encouraged the Corps to better integrate economic and environmental issues into the feasibility study (NRC, 2004b). 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 impacts of a proposed federal action. The latter is also conducted, to a large degree, in a process that is distinct from the feasibility (planning) study.
Other problems within the study arose from efforts to address and provide information about all potentially controversial topics in the main body of the report. The scope of the study was not clearly delineated, with the result that much peripheral information was included that was not directly relevant to the study. Not only did this make the study difficult for readers to comprehend, the size and organization of the study surely made it difficult for Corps staff to edit and update through the course of the study.
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 (this parallels a recommendation from the 216 studies Analytical Methods report; see NRC [2004d]).
Although it is essential to integrate economic and environmental issues into water project plans, the practice of merging water project planning reports with environmental impact assessments 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 envi-
ronmental impact assessment from the feasibility and project planning studies 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.
COORDINATION WITH THE INSTITUTE FOR WATER RESOURCES
The Corps of Engineers operates in a planning environment that is increasingly complicated and that poses stringent challenges to the agency’s analytical capabilities. In its more complicated planning studies, the Corps often is required to provide credible, science-based forecasts of future conditions (e.g., waterway traffic levels); to create and apply sophisticated, large-scale economic models; or design a program for large-scale ecosystem restoration. These challenges require greater staffing and organizational capabilities than in previous eras.
The Corps conducts water resources planning studies in a variety of settings and on a breadth of topics. These studies run the gamut from those conducted for small areas and for primarily a single purpose (e.g., the raising of a levee for a community or restoration of a backwater wetland area) to those conducted across multiple states for multiple purposes. These latter types of studies, which include the UMR-IWW feasibility study, pose greater analytical challenges and are more closely monitored by multiple interest groups. The Corps should consider ways to anticipate and prepare for future large-scale studies similar to the UMR-IWW feasibility study.
There are various means by which the Corps could strengthen its planning capabilities. Some steps for improvement were offered in recommendations in the 216 study reports. Another step the Corps could take to improve its planning capacity is to periodically designate a planning study (or a given portion of a planning study) as one of special interest. Studies could be designated as being of special interest when they represent significant technical or organizational challenges that the Corps can expect to face more often in the future. Many aspects of the UMR-IWW could fit into this description, including projections of future traffic levels, use of nonstructural means for managing waterway traffic, valuation of ecosystem benefits, identifying measures to achieve optimal levels of ecosystem restoration, and public participation. This section discusses organizational and technical aspects that the Corps should consider in conducting its more complicated and challenging planning studies.
Planning studies for Corps of Engineers water resources projects typically are conducted within one of the Corps’ 41 district offices. There are instances, however, in which planning studies are conducted across multiple Corps districts; this was the case with the UMR-IWW study, which employed staff from several district offices within the Corps’ Mississippi River Valley Division. Guidance also was provided by staff from Corps Headquarters in Washington, with the assistance of the Corps’ Institute for Water Resources. Deployment of staff from across the agency is consistent with a recommendation from the 216 study Coordinating Committee, which recommended the creation of specially chartered study teams for more complex and controversial Corps planning studies (NRC, 2004f).
In connection with the UMR-IWW feasibility study the Institute for Water Resources (IWR) created a National Economics Technologies (NETS) Program, which aims to develop economics-based models and techniques to facilitate studies of waterway traffic flows and management. The IWR conducts research on a variety of economic, engineering, and environmental topics that pertain to Corps project operations and planning. Staff from the IWR explained the elements of its NETS program to this committee. The NETS program is consistent with recommendations in this committee’s 2004 reports regarding river traffic forecasts, navigation benefits estimation, and consideration of nonstructural measures to improve waterway traffic management. The Corps deserves credit for allocating resources to this potentially valuable research; the NETS program holds promise for helping reduce waterway congestion and thus increasing overall benefits from UMR-IWW system operations.
To ensure that IWR research is relevant to and being appropriately applied within Corps planning studies, it is important that (1) research addresses problems relevant to current planning; (2) research results are credible and usable; and (3) field-level planners are aware of those results. At the same time, the IWR is obliged to anticipate future analytical challenges, even those not yet identified by field staff. IWR is expected to develop methods and techniques that reflect the state of the art, not merely answers good enough to address today's (or yesterday's) problems. This implies a trade-off between the aspirations of researchers and the needs of planners. It also implies effective communication between the field and the researchers.
There are various ways that communication and dissemination of ideas could be accomplished. The main requirements are that IWR researchers should be presented with key technical problems arising in the Corps district offices, and that IWR research results be vetted and provided to district-level planners in an understandable and usable form. The issues may be technical, operational, economic, or ecological. The determination of which issues can be researched, and research priorities, must be made by IWR, although with comment and review by field staff. Perhaps the most difficult task is packaging and delivering IWR research results in a way that field planners can make effective use of new models and analytical methods. The NETS program presently addresses these objectives through periodic
meetings with the Inland Waterways Center of Expertise group, and the Ports Center of Expertise group, augmented by newsletters and briefings.
The Corps would benefit from communications with other federal agencies regarding methods for disseminating research results and for developing peer review procedures. For example, the EPA uses its “812” studies for developing benefit-cost analysis tools that are used throughout EPA (Section 812 of the Clean Air Act Amendments calls for the EPA to produce an analysis of the costs and benefits of the Clean Air Act from 1970 to 1990). The EPA has a special advisory committee for 812 studies to ensure that up-to-date research results are incorporated in the studies. EPA’s Science Advisory Board also reviews 812 studies to ensure that they are scientifically sound. EPA specifically allocates staff and resources to develop the tools for these studies to ensure that they are credible and analytically sound and can be used in other EPA programs. The Corps should look to this example and relevant experiences in other agencies to help ensure that contemporary and credible research theories and methods are being employed within Corps planning studies.
Reviews of different portions of the Corps’ UMR-IWW feasibility study were conducted through a variety of means, including independent review by two National Research Council (NRC) committees. The first, Phase I, NRC committee was convened in 2000 and issued its report in 2001. The Phase II committee was formed in mid-2003, at a point during which the restructured feasibility study process was underway. This committee thus was placed in a position of trying to keep pace with ongoing Corps actions while simultaneously sifting through background materials developed over the prior 15 years.
The 216 Peer Review Committee report concludes that reviews generally will be of greater value when initiated earlier in the planning process. Although this conclusion may often hold true, when reviews are started early in the process, reviewers may be requested to keep pace with an evolving study or set of studies. Reviews that are initiated in the early stages of a long-term planning study like the UMR-IWW feasibility study may entail challenges in attracting qualified reviewers who are willing to follow a decades-long planning study over its entire course. The Peer Review Committee report recognizes some of the problems with long-term reviews, noting the following:
The Corps’ most challenging planning studies … may require over 10 years to complete. At the same time, it is important that panelists focus on their review of the planning study, and not
become defenders of their recommendations. To guard against this—especially in lengthy planning studies—different review panels may need to be appointed at different stages of the study.
To the Corps’ credit, many steps recommended in the 216 Peer Review Committee report regarding independent review were followed during the UMR-IWW study (the Corps has also recently issued an Engineering Circular on the Peer Review of Decision Documents; USACE, 2005). For example, the Corps prepared documents explaining its agreement with certain recommendations in this committee’s earlier reports and how the Corps intended to use them, or why they chose to disagree with a recommendation. It is worth pointing out that the NRC serves as an adviser to the Corps and to its other study sponsors, and the Corps is thus free to accept or reject any comments from an NRC committee. During the review process, the Corps was cooperative and open in sharing information, participating in discussions with the committee, and hosting committee visits on the Upper Mississippi River. The Corps also helped ensure that the committee spent time with interest groups and nongovernmental organizations that were not fully satisfied with portions of the feasibility study.
The reviews of the NRC committees raised several issues and areas for improvement within the feasibility study. Short of an explicit evaluation of how the Corps was able to incorporate NRC committee advice into its feasibility study (an evaluation beyond this committee’s scope), it is difficult to say precisely how independent review may have strengthened the results of the study.