Evolution of Corps Programs and Federal Water Policies
The Corps of Engineers has played several important roles in shaping America's water resource systems and policies. The Corps has been central to many important trends and events within the federal government's water management programs, from the "levees-only" debate along the Mississippi River in the 1850s, to federal river basin committees in the mid-20th century, to the environmental movement of the late 1960s and 1970s. Although other federal water planning agencies, such as the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in the western states and the Tennessee Valley Authority in the southeastern United States, have been influential, the Corps predates them all and has sponsored projects and programs in all 50 states. This chapter describes the evolution of the Corps' programs and federal water policies, to set the stage for later detailed discussions of how the Corps' planning procedures might be changed. Readers familiar with these topics may wish to proceed directly to the discussion in Chapter 2 on the implications of the Water Resources Development Act of 1986 and other legislative and administrative initiatives for Corps policies and planning.
Early Corps Activities in the Nation's River Basins
The Corps' origins can be traced back to the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, where an engineering school was established in 1802. West Point trained its officers in drafting, mathematics, surveying, and hydraulics, and served as the nation's primary engineering school well into the 19th century.
The early 1800s saw lengthy and heated debates regarding federal involvement in regional water resource development. The debate culminated in the 1824 Gibbons v. Ogden Supreme Court decision, which was strongly profederal. In this historic ruling, Chief Justice John Marshall's majority opinion declared that federal power to regulate interstate commerce carried with it a similar federal authority over navigation (Rogers, 1993), providing entry for the Corps into a variety of programs for the nation's waterways.
In 1850 the U.S. Congress directed the Corps to engage in its first planning exercise. The Corps was authorized to "determine the most practical plan" to control flooding along the lower Mississippi River (Clarke and McCool, 1996). Two strongly diverging reports were produced. A report by Captain Andrew Humphreys promoted a levees-only strategy, focused on completing a levee system along the lower river to the exclusion of other tactics. The other report, by the respected civil
engineer Charles Ellet, backed a more comprehensive strategy of strengthening downstream levees along with upstream storage reservoirs and enlarged river outlets. In 1861, the Corps finally decided in favor of Humphreys' levees-only strategy.
The 1899 River and Harbor Act
The 1899 River and Harbor Act gave the Corps its first direct regulatory mission, by authorizing it to monitor, control, and/or prohibit the dumping of dredged material and other debris into the nation's navigable waters.
Other important legislation was enacted during this period. The Reclamation Act of 1902 created the Reclamation Service (renamed the Bureau of Reclamation in 1923), the federal agency responsible for irrigation and hydropower development in the western United States, that eventually grew in size and power to rival the Corps during the 1940s and 1950s. President Theodore Roosevelt established the Inland Waterways Commission (IWC) in 1906, and in 1909 the River and Harbor Act authorized the Corps and the Reclamation Service to consider hydroelectric power development in their project planning. Traces of the idea of basinwide planning are to be seen in this era and President Roosevelt himself advocated cooperative planning in the nation's river basins, stating that "each river system, from its headwaters in the forest to its mouth on the coast, is a unit and should be treated as such" (Inland Waterways Commission, 1908).
The Federal Water Power Act of 1920
The Federal Water Power Act of 1920 established a uniform process for the licensing of private hydroelectric power projects, but Congress initially neglected to give the Federal Power Commission (FPC) the necessary funds for planning. This was resolved in the River and Harbor Act of 1925. This act requested the Corps and the FPC to estimate the costs of appraising the feasibility of hydropower development, in combination with improvements in navigation, flood control, and irrigation on the "navigable streams of the United States and their territories . . . " (U.S. Congress, 1925). In the River and Harbor Act of 1927, Congress authorized the Corps to undertake comprehensive surveys to formulate "general plans for the most effective improvement of [navigable streams and their tributaries] for the purposes of navigation and the prosecution of such improvement in combination with the most efficient development of the potential water power, the control of floods, and the needs of irrigation" (White, 1957). The surveys came to be called "308 reports," after House Document number 308, which listed the basins recommended for more complete studies. The reports established "the first comprehensive river-basin development plans for the nation" (Moreau, 1996).
New Deal Planning
The 308 plan for the Tennessee River Basin provided the basis for the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), a hallmark of New Deal resource planning. Even before his inauguration, President Franklin Roosevelt promised the people of the impoverished Tennessee River region that the TVA would serve as an example of planning "for generations to come, tying in industry and agriculture and forestry and flood prevention, tying them all into a unified whole over a distance of a thousand miles so that we can afford better opportunities and better places for millions of yet unborn to live in the days to come" (Freidel, 1990).
The Tennessee Valley Act of 1933 marked an era of great confidence in the potential for similar valley authorities to promote water and related land development, with the ends of social and economic improvement. In the 74th Congress alone, more than a dozen bills were introduced that called for valley authorities in the upper Mississippi, Arkansas, Cumberland, Wabash, Columbia, Sacramento-San Joaquin, Missouri, Tombigbee, Connecticut, and Merrimack basins (Rieke and Kenney, 1997).
Executive-level interest in resource planning was reflected in a series of national boards and commissions: the National Planning Board (1933-1934), the National Resources Board (1934-1935), the National Resources Committee (1935-1939), the National Power Policy Committee, and the National Resources Planning Board (1939-1943).
The Flood Control Act of 1936
It was also during the 1930s that the Corps developed its benefit-cost procedures. Section I of the Flood Control Act of 1936 specified the circumstances for federal involvement in improvements for flood control: "the federal government should improve or participate in the improvement of navigable waters or their tributaries, including watersheds thereof, for flood control purposes if the benefits to whomsoever they may accrue are in excess of the estimated costs, and if the lives and social security of people are otherwise adversely affected" This effectively subjected all of the Corps' future flood control projects to a benefit-cost test (Kneese, 1993).
Although this idea came from Congress, it had been contemplated for a long time. In 1808 Treasury Secretary Gallatin issued a report calling for analysis of the benefits and costs of proposed waterway improvements. It also appeared, in some form, in the 1902 Reclamation Act, and comparisons of benefits and costs were routinely included in the 308 reports (for example, see House Document 500, 72nd Congress, "Improvement and Development of Neuse River, NC"). The most direct congressional mandate was in the 1936 act: "Whether the legislators who framed and enacted this statute knew it or not, with this provision they enshrined the "Kaldor-Hicks" potential compensation criterion in federal law. This criterion says that a project is economically justified if the beneficiaries could compensate the losers, whether they do so or not" (Kneese, 1993).
The act also elevated the Corps' flood control activities to the same level as
its navigation enhancement programs. Over the next 60 years, the Corps increasingly refined its benefit-cost analysis, becoming one of the primary federal agencies to apply this decision making technique, although the Corps' applications of benefit-cost analysis have drawn several criticisms (Krutilla, 1966; Reisner, 1986).
The Federal Interagency River Basin Committee
President Roosevelt established the Federal Interagency River Basin Committee (FIARBC) in 1943, at the same time Congress moved to abolish the National Resources Planning Board (NRPB) (Moore and Moore, 1989). The first regional river basin committee under the FIARBC, the Missouri Basin Interagency Committee (MBIAC), was created in 1945 to implement the Pick-Sloan Plan (adopted in the 1944 Flood Control Act). Pick-Sloan was forwarded to resolve the competition in the Missouri River basin between the Corps and the Bureau of Reclamation, both of which vied for supremacy over western U.S. water development in the post-World War II era. According to Pick-Sloan, the Corps was to develop flood control and navigation improvements for the Missouri River, while the Bureau of Reclamation was to develop irrigated agriculture in the Missouri basin (Rieke and Kenney, 1997). By 1950, other FIARBC committees had been established in the Columbia, Pacific Southwest, Arkansas-White-Red, and New York-New England basins. Much has been written about the FIARBC committees, most of it "uniformly critical of this institutional arrangement" (Rieke and Kenney, 1997). The FIARBC committees were eventually replaced by the Interagency Committee on Water Resources (ICWR) during President Eisenhower's administration.
Federal Water Resources Planning at Mid-Century
The Cooke Commission
A series of water resource investigations at the federal level were initiated in the 1950s and 1960s, starting with the President's Water Resources Policy Commission, established by executive order in January 1950 (Rogers, 1993). The panel was known as the Cooke Commission, as it was chaired by Morris Cooke, a well-known management consultant and administrator of the Rural Electric Authority and other federal agencies. The commission produced a substantive three-volume report in 1950. Volume 1, A Water Policy for the American People, made several recommendations for federal water planning, including a call for separate commissions for the nation's major river basins (even though the previous FIARBC river basin committees were deemed mainly ineffective). Volume II, Ten Rivers in America's Future, identified several programs for more effective planning, including standards for data collection (Wescoat, 1998). The Commission's findings also led the Bureau of the Budget to issue a manual—Circular A-47—which identified
standards to be used by all federal agencies in water project evaluation.
The Green Book
In 1950 a subcommittee of the FIARBC presented the classic economic efficiency model as the standard for analysis, in a report known as the Green Book (the document was revised and published in 1958 as Proposed Practices for Economic Analysis of River Basin Project ). The report covered the basic concepts of benefit-cost analysis; principles and procedures for project and program formulation; standards, problems and procedures in benefit and cost measurement; analysis of various project purposes; and cost allocation (Yoe and Orth, 1996). Although the professional staffs of the federal agencies agreed on many of the document's economic principles, the FIARBC never officially adopted the report. Much of its content, however, found its way into Circular A-47.
Enacted by President Truman on December 31, 1952, just as he was leaving office, Circular A-47 imposed rigorous new standards for water project evaluation by the federal agencies. Congress did not approve of the circular but could not agree on an alternative. It thus remained a directive that Congress routinely circumvented in its authorization and appropriation processes. The Bureau of the Budget's Circular A-47, entitled Reports and Budget Estimates Relating to Federal Programs and Projects for Conservation, Development, or Use of Water and Related Land Resources, was intended to provide uniform standards and criteria to be used by the Executive Office of the President (EOP) in reviewing reports and budget requests of the various water resources agencies. According to its key directives (Moore and Moore, 1989):
- the project's total benefits had to exceed its costs;
- the benefits of each purpose of a multiple-purpose project had to exceed the costs;
- where permitted by enabling legislation, local interests should contribute one-half of the land enhancement value of flood protection;
- project costs should include an estimate of the taxes foregone; and
- 50-year maximum period should be set for repayment of the federal interest.
Circular A-47 also laid the groundwork for nonstructural solutions to flood problems, either as supplements to or substitutes for traditional structural approaches.
But the Corps did not widely use such executive branch guidance in formulating projects during the 1950s. One reason was that the Corps had become closely identified with congressional interests. According to Arthur Maass, who studied the role of the Corps in the U.S. governmental system and its relations with local constituents, the agency operated as the construction and engineering arm of the
U.S. Congress during the years between the two world wars, calling itself the U.S. Engineering Department (Maass, 1951). Maass noted a complex, highly structured planning process within the organization, the purpose of which was to allow local participation in plan formulation: "A recapitulation of the process . . . reveals a minimum of thirty-two stages at which interest groups may be able to present their views to the Corps and Congress. Of these thirty-two stages, fifteen may involve contacts between interest groups and the Engineering Department" (Maass, 1951).
Senate Document 97
In 1962 the U.S. Senate published a report prepared by the Interagency Committee on Water Resources which was transmitted to the Congress by President Kennedy. The report significantly impacted the planning processes of federal water agencies. Known as Senate Document 97, it laid out new policies, standards, and procedures to be used in the formulation, evaluation, and review of agency plans. The objectives of flood control were left essentially unchanged: flood control and prevention benefits were to consist of a reduction in damages from inundation, plus increases in the net return from higher property value made possible as a result of lowering the flood hazards. However, Senate Document 97 also established a general planning milieu based on "the expectation of an expanding national economy in which increasing amounts of goods and services are likely to be required to meet the needs of a growing population, higher levels of living, international commitments and continuing economic growth" (Rogers, 1993).
The U.S. Water Resources Council and Title II River Basin Commissions
The Water Resources Council
The 1965 Water Resources Planning Act was passed as part of a continuing effort by the administrations of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson to coordinate and centralize federal water resources planning and policy formulation. The act marked the culmination of decades of efforts toward a more centralized approach to water resources planning (Wescoat, 1998). In terms of federal water policy, the act had two key components: Title I created the executive-level Water Resources Council (WRC); Title II provided the framework for the establishment of interagency-interstate commissions (Rieke and Kenney, 1997). It also required the establishment of "principles, standards, and procedures for Federal participation in the preparation of comprehensive regional river basin plans and for the formulation and evaluation of Federal water and related land resources projects" (42 U.S.C. 1962a-2).
The WRC initially consisted of seven cabinet-level departments: Agriculture, Army (including the Corps), Commerce, Energy, Housing and Urban
Development, Interior, and Transportation. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was added in 1970 when it was created by executive order. The WRC was chaired by the Secretary of the Interior, who was assisted by an executive director and a small staff. The level of representation within the WRC varied considerably. The secretaries of each department and the EPA administrator were the actual council members. But because they often did not have time for the council's day-to-day operations, their responsibilities were delegated to assistants.
Among the WRC's more important programs were the development in 1973 of the Principles and Standards for Planning Water and Related Land Resources, national assessments of the nation's water resources (issued in 1968 and 1978), and a state-level planning program. According to Moore and Moore (1989): "Key provisions of the new P&S made capital-intensive water projects harder to justify. Environmentalists and the budget-conscious were pleased with the restrictions, but construction agencies wanted more liberal evaluation criteria. Concerned that the P&S did not give equal priority to economic development and social well being, in Section 80C of WRDA '74, Congress directed a second study that was published in 1975. This study noted inconsistencies in agency cost-sharing practices and left final decisions for correcting the problems to Congress."
The new P&S, along with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (which mandated preparation of an environmental impact statement as part of federal water project planning) lengthened the Corps' planning process (Mazmanian and Nienaber, 1979). According to Moore and Moore (1989), "By 1971, the Corps estimated the time between passage of a congressional resolution authorizing a study and the initiation of construction at 15 years. In 1981, Congress estimated an average of 26 years from authorization to construction."
In 1983, the Principles and Standards were repealed by the WRC and replaced by the Economic and Environmental Principles and Guidelines for Water and Related Land Resources Implementation Studies, commonly called the P&G. They were removed from the "Rules" section of the Federal Register and placed in the "Notice" section, thus becoming guidelines rather than rules for federal agency planning.
The WRC was the product of an era of pronounced national interest in river basin development, which began in the 1930s and ran through the 1960s. The WRC presided during a period of ambitious water resources planning (including its 1968 and 1978 national water assessments). President Carter's suggestion that the WRC have an expanded role, with greater regulatory and projects review authority, was not well received. The WRC, criticized over previous modest interventions in the planning process, came under a torrent of complaints regarding excessive costs, permits, and denials (Wescoat, 1998). The Reagan administration moved quickly to phase out the WRC, zero-funding the organization in 1981.
Title II River Basin Commissions
Several river basin commissions were established under Title II of the 1965 Water Resources Planning Act, including ones for New England, the Ohio River basin, the Missouri River basin, the Pacific Northwest, the Great Lakes, and the
Souris-Red-Rainy region. The Upper Mississippi Title II Commission was added in 1971 and was incorporated into the Souris-Red-Rainy Commission (Rieke and Kenney, 1997). No Title II commissions were created in basins where waters had been allocated according to Supreme Court decisions or by compacts (such as on the Colorado River).
The Title II commissions were formed to promote the coordination of federal and, to a lesser extent, state water management agencies. The commissions' activities varied greatly, depending on basin histories and geographical circumstances, and they were viewed as moderately successful, at best. Only the New England River Basins Commission was generally seen as effective. This was due largely to the strong conservation ethic of its chairman, Frank Gregg; a modest influence of federal development agencies in the region; and a strong regional orientation and tradition of interstate cooperation (Rieke and Kenney, 1997).
Program Reduction, 1970-1985
The period 1970 to 1985 marked a significant departure from the previous decades of Corps program growth, as Congress authorized no major water projects. For several well-documented reasons, public environmental perceptions and values began to change in the 1960s (Caulfield, 1977; Hays, 1987; Nash, 1990). Consequently, Congress passed several statutes that had considerable influence on the Corps' (and other federal agencies') planning processes, and the presidents during this time issued several important executive orders relating to natural resources policy and planning. These statutes and executive orders included:
- the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act;
- President Nixon's July 1970 executive order creating the EPA;
- the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1972, especially Section 404 relating to wetlands protection;
- the Endangered Species Act of 1973; and
- President Carter's 1977 Executive Order 11988 on floodplain management and 11990 on wetlands protection, which united the previously separate goals of reducing flood losses and environmental damage by recognizing the beneficial values associated with wetlands (Moore and Moore, 1989).
Although the Corps' planning processes had always been relatively elaborate, these new authorities raised that complexity to a higher level. The new policies and statutes resulted in more extensive interagency programs with the EPA, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Private-sector, nonprofit environmental organizations also stepped up their participation in Corps planning. Most of the cooperation and coordination initiated in the 1970s continues today and in some cases—such as coordination with the Fish and Wildlife Service regarding the Endangered Species Act—has been expanded.
Higher discount rates that disfavored project economic justification (Moore and Moore, 1989), coupled with the Office of Management and Budget's general lack of enthusiasm for water projects (Caulfield, 1977), resulted in decreased funding. Federal outlays for water projects dropped by almost 80 percent, from $6 billion per year in 1968 to $1.3 billion in fiscal 1984, and from 1977 to 1983 more Corps civil works projects were canceled than were authorized (Moore and Moore, 1989). The Reagan administration's emphasis on cost sharing further reduced federal support for large-scale water development.
Most of the nation's main rivers and tributaries had already been dammed by the late 1960s, also decreasing the possibility of more federally funded water projects. The mainstreams of the Columbia, Missouri, Mississippi, Colorado, Tennessee, Ohio, and Rio Grande had been nearly fully developed. The need for large-scale water resources engineering and construction had simply declined.
By the end of the 1970s, these factors, along with heightened environmental awareness, necessitated changes to the Corps' project planning. The Chief of Engineers enunciated new, agency-wide environmental objectives; public involvement was expanded; new environmental resources units were established at the district, division, and headquarters levels; and the Corps hired personnel with expertise in the biological and social sciences to augment the agency's environmental programs.
"Fishbowl planning"—public participation in all steps of the planning process—was conceived and implemented by the Corps' Seattle district. It represented the most extensive effort to incorporate the myriad changes and directives into the agency's traditional planning process (Mazmanian and Nienaber, 1979). Used for several projects in the Pacific Northwest, including a flood damage reduction project on the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River, this new planning model (originally mandated by NEPA and the EIS requirements) resulted in a longer and costlier process.
Although popular with the general public, the Corps eventually scaled back public participation because it was not considered to be cost-effective. For instance, in the case of the Snoqualmie River, the original congressional authorization for a flood damage reduction study was passed in 1960, but the agency's final study was not scheduled for completion until 1981 (Mazmanian and Nienaber, 1979). Other examples where public participation programs were reduced include the Meramec Lake Project (St. Louis district) and the Little Calumet River Project (Chicago district).
This attenuated planning process, new environmental legislation, and the precipitous decline in new starts in the 1970s caused the Corps to reconsider its entire planning process. In addition, Congress was soon to change the context and ground rules for federal water projects and planning. The changes enacted in the federal Water Resources Development Act of 1986 (WRDA '86) and the following years are reviewed in detail in Chapter 2.