Friday, October 19, 2012

National Research Council: Army Corps Faces "Unsustainable Situation"

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers faces an "unsustainable situation" in maintaining its national water projects at acceptable levels of performance, according to a new report released this week by the National Academies' National Research Council (NRC).  A pre-publication copy of the NRC Committee report, "Corps of Engineers Water Resources Infrastructure: Deterioration, Investment, or Divestment?" has been made available by the authoring NRC "Committee on the United States Army Corps of Engineers Water Resources Science, Engineering, and Planning" on the NRC Committee web site.

Source: National Academies
An ill-defined distribution of responsibility among Congress, the White House Office of Management and Budget, and the Army Corps regarding national-level prioritization of investments in maintenance and rehabilitation for existing water infrastructure lies at the core of the ultimate unsustainability of the nation's water resource project infrastructure.  And the report authors call for moving away from that governance model toward a more systematic approach toward water infrastructure maintenance and rehabilitation.  That shift will require, they say, that those institutions (the Army Corps, Congress and the White House) break with some of their historically-entrenched management traditions and practices.  The report stresses that partnerships with states, communities and the private sector have the potential to yield new resources and more efficient methods, especially in the areas of hydropower generation, flood risk management, and port and harbor maintenance, and calls for an independent investigation of the opportunities for such additional partnerships.

Among the report's other "key findings" are:
  • Dwindling federal resources have limited funds available for water infrastructure operations, maintenance, and rehabilitation, and there is a considerable backlog of deferred maintenance
  • The Army Corps faces challenges in its operations, maintenance, and rehabilitation duties given that its roles, partnerships, and successes in one mission area are not transferred easily to other areas or activities
  • Higher congressional and administration priority on operations, maintenance, and rehabilitation issues will require some reorientation away from the present strong focus on the Water Resources Development Act
  • Future operations, maintenance, and rehabilitation investments should be guided by principles based on economics of infrastructure investment
  • More specific direction from Congress regarding priority maintenance investment needs will be crucial to sustaining the Army Corps' high priority and most valuable projects
  • The executive branch should play a more aggressive role in promoting dialogue between the Corps and the Congress
The report was sponsored by the Army Corps of Engineers.  Members of NRC's U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Water Resources Science, Engineering, and Planning Committee are listed here.

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