When does the federal government get involved in water resources issues?

By Steve Fischer
Chief of Planning Branch

It may strike some as an oddity that the U.S. Army is charged with riverine projects.

National civil works is a primary mission of the Army’s Corps of Engineers, but there are qualifications.

Before the Corps can participate in a civil works project, it requires three key items. Those include a Congressional authority, determination of federal interest, and an appropriation to study, design, and finally construct a solution. Without these, the Corps cannot proceed with a federal undertaking.

A necessary principle that governs federal activity is a request from a local government or entity to the Corps requesting assistance in solving a water resources problem. Most issues are local and addressed by local government. When local government is not equipped to solve the issue and believe it should be addressed by the federal government, the Corps must verify it is a federal responsibility and seek authority and funding for execution.

Once the Corps has an authority and funding, it can begin a feasibility study. One of the first steps conducted is to make a Federal Interest Determination.

Simply stated, the Corps will determine if a cost-effective, environmentally-justified, and technically-feasible practicable solution is likely and in the interest of the American taxpayer. It will also identify a cost-share project partner. A cost-effective solution will explore the benefits gained from a proposed project versus the cost to build an implementable solution.

Benefits can include items such as increased habitat units (ecosystem restoration study), flood damages prevented (flood risk management study), or reductions in costs associated with the use of larger vessels (navigation study). Contributions to national economic development (NED) are increases in the net value of the national output of goods and services, expressed in monetary units.

Contributions to NED are the direct net benefits that accrue. A plan recommending federal action is to be the alternative plan with the greatest net economic benefit consistent with protecting the nation’s environment (the NED plan).

If no federal interest can be determined, the feasibility study will be terminated. However, if federal interest is identified, the study will proceed and a recommended plan will be identified, approved and forwarded to Congress for consideration of funding and construction.

It may seem unusual that the U.S. Army is entrusted with domestic civil works missions, but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is, and has always been, the most capable and best equipped force of engineers to execute civil works missions on a national scale.

For those interested in seeking federal assistance in addressing a water resource issue, contact the Savannah District Corps of Engineers at (912) 652-5781 or email CESAS-PD.SAS@usace.army.mil.

About U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Savannah District

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Savannah District oversees a multimillion dollar military construction program at 11 Army and Air Force installations in Georgia and North Carolina. We also manage water resources across the Coastal Georgia region, including maintenance dredging of the Savannah and Brunswick harbors; operation of three hydroelectric dams and reservoirs along the upper Savannah River; and administration of an extensive stream and wetland permitting and mitigation program within the state of Georgia. Follow us on Twitter @SavannahCorps and on Facebook.com/SavannahCorps
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