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Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Research Council. 2013. Corps of Engineers Water Resources Infrastructure: Deterioration, Investment, or Divestment?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13508.
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1

Introduction

The Corps of Engineers has constructed, operates, and maintains a vast national water resources infrastructure, with various facilities in all 50 U.S. states. The traditional mission areas of the Corps were flood control and navigation enhancement, and the agency has constructed tens of thousands of miles of levees, hundreds of locks and dams for navigation, and dams for multiple purposes, including hydroelectric power generation. The Corps has constructed channel control structures along hundreds of miles of rivers and along the intracoastal waterways of the southern and eastern United States. The Corps also has important responsibilities in ensuring navigable depths in the nation’s ports and harbors. Corps water resources infrastructure affects river flows and levels on many of the nation’s large river systems, including the Columbia, Missouri, Mississippi, and Ohio Rivers.

Much of the Corps of Engineers water resources infrastructure was constructed many decades ago. Approximately 95 percent of the dams managed by the Corps are more than 30 years old, and 52 percent have reached or exceeded their 50-year project lives (USACE, 2012a). Similar statistics can be cited for Corps levees, hydropower, and other facilities. This deterioration of Corps water resources infrastructure is a microcosm of larger national trends in the deteriorating condition of major infrastructure, including highways, bridges, roads, airports, and drinking water and wastewater treatment facilities. Degradation of U.S. infrastructure has been discussed in many fora, such as the well-known annual infrastructure ‘report cards’

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Research Council. 2013. Corps of Engineers Water Resources Infrastructure: Deterioration, Investment, or Divestment?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13508.
×

issued by the American Society of Civil Engineers (e.g., ASCE, 2012a). In addition to aging Corps water infrastructure, in particular, federal resources for major rehabilitation have decreased. Since the mid-1980s, the constant dollar value estimate of the net capital stock civil works projects of the Corps has decreased from roughly $237 billion to about $164 billion (Calvert, 2012).

The water resources infrastructure of the United States is in most senses complete, or “built out.” New water resources projects of course will continue to be constructed in the future, but most of the nation’s major river and coastal systems have been developed, and national water infrastructure investment needs increasingly are centered on maintenance and rehabilitation needs. However, many of the processes developed over the years, and still in use, by the U.S. Congress to ensure viable national water resources infrastructure revolve around planning, authorizing, and in some cases providing appropriations for new water project construction. These processes are reflected in occasional federal Water Resources Development Acts, or WRDAs. The WRDA process historically was not developed or used as a primary vehicle for water project maintenance and rehabilitation, but these issues today are increasingly important national water investment priorities.

It is in this context that the National Research Council (NRC) Committee on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Water Resources Science, Engineering, and Planning produced its second report. This committee is scheduled to release five reports during the course of its tenure of approximately five years, on a series of different water resources issues of importance to the Corps of Engineers. The committee issued its first report in 2011 (NRC, 2011), with a focus on national water resources challenges and roles for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Topics for this committee’s third, fourth, and fifth reports will be developed and agreed upon by the Corps and the National Research Council in the future.

This report investigates existing Corps water resources infrastructure, including its navigation, flood management, and hydropower generating infrastructure (Box 1-1). The report focuses on ‘hard’ infrastructure assets such as locks, dams, levees, and hydropower facilities, and not on related resources that are affected by Corps facilities and their operations, such as wetlands, endangered species, sediment, or water quality.

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Research Council. 2013. Corps of Engineers Water Resources Infrastructure: Deterioration, Investment, or Divestment?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13508.
×

BOX 1-1
STATEMENT OF TASK

This committee will provide advice to the Corps of Engineers on a range of scientific, engineering, and water resources planning issues through periodic reports. Through its reports, the committee will provide advice to the Corps on agency practices that are valid or that should be revised, and it will help the Corps anticipate and prepare for emerging water resources planning challenges. Meetings between this committee and the Corps will allow for the identification of important and emerging water resources planning and policy issues of high priority to the agency and upon which they are seeking external advice. In addition to speaking with the Corps of Engineers, the committee often will engage invited speakers from other federal agencies, U.S. congressional staff, state governments, the private sector, and relevant stakeholders. The committee also may serve as a forum for occasional workshops on thematic issues, such as flood risk management, sustainable river system planning, hydroecosystem restoration, or implications to water management of climate change and variability.

This committee's first report (NRC, 2011) identified emerging national water resources challenges and their implications for Corps of Engineers strategies and programs. The committee's second report will focus on the future of Corps of Engineers water resources infrastructure.

Part of the committee’s work plan for this second report will include a meeting with several invited speakers to discuss the purposes, condition, investment levels and projected needs, funding alternatives, and decision-making processes relevant to operations, maintenance, and improvements (recapitalization, rehabilitation, repurposing, decommissioning, etc.) of Corps of Engineers water resources infrastructure.

The committee's report will seek to identify alternatives and opportunities for improved decision making and prioritization in regard to maintenance, upgrades, and modernization of the navigation, flood risk management, hydropower, and related ecosystem infrastructure managed by the Corps.

The report also will consider potential opportunities and innovations for managing Corps water resources infrastructure in a modern context of more intergovernmental and public/private partnerships and collaboration. The committee will not recommend changes in levels of federal water resources funding, nor will it recommend changes in Corps of Engineers organizational restructuring.

Statements of task for subsequent reports will be determined through discussions between the committee and the Corps and will be subject to approval of the Academies’ Governing Board Executive Committee.

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Research Council. 2013. Corps of Engineers Water Resources Infrastructure: Deterioration, Investment, or Divestment?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13508.
×

The background for the following report includes an extensive set of NRC reports that reviewed various aspects of Corps of Engineers planning processes and methods (Box 1-2). NRC committees have, for example, reviewed the Corps of Engineers planning process, analytical methods, and ecosystem restoration. The NRC also has reviewed Corps of Engineers projects and planning studies for the Florida Everglades, the Missouri River, the upper Mississippi River-Illinois Waterway, coastal Louisiana, and the New Orleans hurricane protection system. Recently, the NRC reviewed a draft of the proposed revisions to the federal Principles and Guidelines that guide planning steps of the Corps of Engineers and other federal agencies (NRC, 2010a).

The present report is distinct from previous NRC reports in that it does not focus on planning methods for new projects or on possible changes in operational regimes for better management of water and related resources. Rather, the report examines maintenance and rehabilitation of existing Corps water infrastructure. The setting of priorities, options for funding maintenance and rehabilitation needs, and alternatives for maintaining or decommissioning parts of that infrastructure also are discussed. Evaluation or critiques of issues such as multi-criterion decision making for new water projects, benefit-cost analysis, federal Principles and Guidelines, or adaptive management are beyond the scope of this report, although some of these topics are referred to as part of the analyses conducted.

It also should be noted that this report focuses specifically on Corps of Engineers water resources infrastructure and does not consider and evaluate specifically operational or maintenance programs of other federal water agencies, such as the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Further, the report does not consider other national water issues such as food security, irrigation, remediation of groundwater pollution, climatic and hydrologic nonstationarity, or provision of water supplies and drinking water. Some of these issues are closely related to Corps of Engineers water infrastructure, and some of them were discussed in the course of the committee’s deliberations and preparation of its report. Ultimately, however, the committee decided to focus tightly on only those issues prescribed in its statement of task.

The Corps of Engineers is authorized to carry out projects in seven mission areas: navigation, flood damage reduction, ecosystem restoration, hurricane and storm damage reduction, water supply, hydroelectric power gen-

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Research Council. 2013. Corps of Engineers Water Resources Infrastructure: Deterioration, Investment, or Divestment?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13508.
×

BOX 1-2 EXAMPLES OF NRC REPORTS REVIEWING CORPS OF ENGINEERS PLANNING

The National Research Council has issued numerous reports that have examined Corps of Engineers planning studies and methods. In some instances, these reports have focused on methods, models, and techniques. In other instances, the reports have focused on technical applications in planning studies in specific aquatic and river systems. This box presents a sampling of these reports.

Improving American River Flood Frequency Analyses. 1999. Reviewed Corps flood-frequency curve of the American River in California.

New Directions in Water Resources Planning for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 1999. Reviewed Corps planning procedures and the implications of WRDA 1986 cost-sharing criteria.

Risk Analysis and Uncertainty in Flood Damage Reduction Studies. 2000. Reviewed the use of risk-based methods in Corps flood damage reduction studies.

A set of coordinated studies on various dimensions of Corps planning methods and approaches was congressionally mandated in Section 216 of the 2000 Water Resources Development Act. They have been informally referred to as “the 216 studies”:

Review Procedures for Water Resources Project Planning. 2002.

Adaptive Management for Water Resources Project Planning. 2004.

eration, and recreation (USACE, 2000). The first three of these generally are referred to as the Corps’ primary civil works missions.

The hard infrastructure considered in this report is facilities managed by the Corps or facilities at which the Corps is a critical partner (e.g., many ports and harbors). This infrastructure includes locks, dams (both navigation dams and multipurpose dams), hydropower generating facilities, port and harbor facilities, and levees, floodwalls, and other flood protection infrastructure. Corps hard infrastructure assets are not distributed evenly across its various mission areas. The hard infrastructure for which the Corps is responsible lies mainly within its missions for navigation, flood

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Research Council. 2013. Corps of Engineers Water Resources Infrastructure: Deterioration, Investment, or Divestment?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13508.
×

Analytical Methods and Approaches for Water Resources Project Planning. 2004.

River Basins and Coastal Systems Planning Within the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 2004.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Water Resources Planning: A New Opportunity for Service. 2005.

The NRC conducted reviews of Corps studies that evaluated the economic feasibility of extensions of several locks on the lower portion of the upper Mississippi River-Illinois Waterway:

Inland Navigation System Planning: The Upper Mississippi River-Illinois Waterway. 2001.

Review of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Restructured Upper Mississippi River-Illinois Waterway Feasibility Study. Two 2004 reports.

Water Resources Planning for the Upper Mississippi River and Illinois Waterway. 2005.

Similarly, the NRC has performed multiple reviews of restoration plans in the Florida Everglades (e.g., NRC, 2010b).

Following Hurricane Katrina, the Department of the Army requested that the NRC and the National Academy of Engineering review successive drafts that evaluated performance of the New Orleans hurricane protection system during Hurricane Katrina. Short reports were issued in 2006 (three) and 2008. That committee’s final report was The New Orleans Hurricane Protection System: Assessing Pre-Katrina Vulnerability and Improving Mitigation and Preparedness (2009).

damage reduction, and hydropower generation, and this report focuses on those three areas. Regarding ecosystem restoration, Corps hard infrastructure often is integral to ecosystem restoration efforts. There are important links between Corps infrastructure and aquatic ecosystems resources. In some places, hard infrastructure has been or is being removed, altered, or re-operated to help achieve restoration goals. This report does not consider the implications of maintenance, upgrades, and modernization of hard infrastructure on resources such as wetlands, fisheries, sediment, or endangered species. These latter categories encompass considerations distinct from hard infrastructure resources, financing, and prioritization. Further, evaluation of the

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Research Council. 2013. Corps of Engineers Water Resources Infrastructure: Deterioration, Investment, or Divestment?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13508.
×

evaluation of the links between Corps infrastructure operations, maintenance, and rehabilitation (OMR) and ecosystems, given the breadth of the topic, would entail a separate investigation. The committee viewed this interpretation as consistent with its charge to consider “navigation, flood risk management, hydropower, and related ecosystem infrastructure managed by the Corps.”

This committee held its first meeting of this phase of the project in Washington, D.C., in April 2011, where it engaged with several Corps of Engineers senior staff members, along with numerous guest speakers from outside the agency. A second meeting was held in Davenport, Iowa, in July 2011 and was hosted by Corps of Engineers staff from its Rock Island District office. That meeting featured presentations from Corps of Engineers staff, regional water experts from outside the agency, and representatives from communities affected by floods, as well as a field trip to the Mississippi River Lock and Dam 15 Corps facilities. A third meeting was held in Washington, D.C., in December 2011 that featured guest speakers mainly from outside the Corps of Engineers. A fourth and final writing meeting, which included a field trip to Hoover Dam and engagement with U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials, was held in Las Vegas in March 2012. Guest speakers at the meetings are listed in Appendix A.

This report is organized into four chapters. Following this introductory chapter, Chapter 2 reviews and comments upon historical federal water resources planning processes, with an emphasis on the Water Resources Development Act. Chapter 3 examines the state of Corps infrastructure and related challenges in setting OMR priorities, as well as opportunities to address these issues in the Corps mission areas of navigation, flood risk management, and hydropower generation. Chapter 4 summarizes committee observations regarding the state of Corps water resources infrastructure, and presents options for paths forward in managing existing Corps water resources infrastructure.

Primary audiences for this report are the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Congress, and the executive branch. Other audiences for this report include state and local elected officials and water managers, the commercial navigation sector, floodplain communities, port and harbor authorities, the energy production sector, and nongovernmental environmental organizations.

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Research Council. 2013. Corps of Engineers Water Resources Infrastructure: Deterioration, Investment, or Divestment?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13508.
×
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Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Research Council. 2013. Corps of Engineers Water Resources Infrastructure: Deterioration, Investment, or Divestment?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13508.
×
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Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Research Council. 2013. Corps of Engineers Water Resources Infrastructure: Deterioration, Investment, or Divestment?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13508.
×
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Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Research Council. 2013. Corps of Engineers Water Resources Infrastructure: Deterioration, Investment, or Divestment?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13508.
×
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Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Research Council. 2013. Corps of Engineers Water Resources Infrastructure: Deterioration, Investment, or Divestment?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13508.
×
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Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Research Council. 2013. Corps of Engineers Water Resources Infrastructure: Deterioration, Investment, or Divestment?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13508.
×
Page 17
Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Research Council. 2013. Corps of Engineers Water Resources Infrastructure: Deterioration, Investment, or Divestment?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13508.
×
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Over the past century, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has built a vast network of water management infrastructure that includes approximately 700 dams, 14,000 miles of levees, 12,000 miles of river navigation channels and control structures, harbors and ports, and other facilities. Historically, the construction of new infrastructure dominated the Corps' water resources budget and activities. Today, national water needs and priorities increasingly are shifting to operations, maintenance, and rehabilitation of existing infrastructure, much of which has exceeded its design life.

However, since the mid-1980s federal funding for new project construction and major rehabilitation has declined steadily. As a result, much of the Corps' water resources infrastructure is deteriorating and wearing out faster than it is being replaced. Corps of Engineers Water Resources Infrastrucutre: Deterioration, Investment, or Divestment? explores the status of operations, maintenance, and rehabilitation of Corps water resources infrastructure, and identifies options for the Corps and the nation in setting maintenance and rehabilitation priorities.

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