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New Directions in Corps Civil Works Planning?

The Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) is a significant Congressional Act with more than a hundred subsections that provide Congressional policy direction, most significant, authorization of water and related resources development projects across the nation.

Not all WRDA subsections captivate public attention. Some do. In particular, Section 110 of the WRDA 2020 requires the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) and the Army Corps of Engineers to issue agency specific procedures necessary to implement the Principles, Requirements and Guidelines that underpin the policy and process governing the development of Civil Works projects under the Corps planning program.

Section 110 implementation begins with the Secretary developing procedures to consider future water resources development projects that would require the full identification and analysis of national economic benefits, regional economic development benefits, environmental quality benefits and other social effects. As provided under Section 110(d), the Secretary issued a Federal Register Notice on June 3, 2022 to inform the public of this expected rulemaking effort and seek public input on the content of such rulemaking.

Why this is significant:

While the process will likely not see a proposed draft rule for another several months, we expect the Secretary and the Corps will place special emphasis on accounting for the total benefits that a proposed project would realize in the eventual development of a recommended project. Rather than a primary focus on the National Economic Development (NED) plan, many experts anticipate a more comprehensive and open approach to capturing and displaying total benefits.

The primary focus in the past has been on formulating the plan that maximizes national economic development benefits rather than the total benefits that a proposed project may deliver. I envision a scenario in which total benefits of potential projects will receive a sharper focus as Civil Works leaders develop new procedures that may extend beyond NED alone.

It’s reasonable to assume there will be increased emphasis on not only describing benefits, but categorizing and capturing proposed project benefits that are quantified and unquantified, monetized and non-monetized.

The proposed rule is expected to account for total project benefits and, in modernizing the Corps planning process, to account for those benefits. For example, it is expected there will be an emphasis on nature-based solutions, environmental justice considerations, and impacts of climate change. Community resilience, considering economic, social, and environmental benefits with no weighting, will likely be a prime concern in project formation, benefit analysis, project justification, and ultimately, project recommendations.

Of interest to project partners:

As the new planning guidance unfolds, the broad water resources community will be carefully watching future “Chief’s Reports” – reports issued by the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers Chief of Engineers when a water resources project would require Congressional authorization or a change to an existing project authorization. Potential project partners will be interested in how future potential Civil Works projects will be formulated and recommended based on analyzing the total benefits they deliver and the lasting significance of such a comprehensive view that may go beyond the NED plan.

Next up is the release of the proposed rule for public comment, which is expected to occur later this summer.

Doug Lamont, PE

Senior Advisor

Doug joined the Dawson team in 2019 after a career with the Army Corps of Engineers, including 13 years as Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Project Planning and Review.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Dawson & Associates.


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