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Deadline is March 5.
Here's my comment.
Here's an interesting commentary from a former Corps engineer:
Revising the Principles and Guidelines: What all Water Organizations Should Know
Mr. Fred Caver, former Deputy Director of Civil Works for the Army Corps of Engineers prior to his retirement in 2005, explained the significance of the proposed Principles and Guidelines revisions and why water related organizations should be informed. Mr. Caver now runs a small water resources consulting firm, Caver and Associates, Inc., and serves as the Chairman of the National Waterways Conference, an organization dedicated to creating a greater understanding of the widespread public benefits of our nation’s water resources infrastructure and to effecting common sense policies and programs which recognize the public value of water resources and their contribution to public safety, a competitive economy, national security, environmental quality and energy conservation. A transcript of the February 24, 2010, interview conducted by Kris Polly of Water Strategies, LLC, is below.
Kris Polly: What are the Principles and Guidelines and how are they used?
Fred Caver: The Principles and Guidelines, or more completely, “Economic and Environmental Principles and Guidelines for Water and Related Land Resources Implementation Studies,” provide the goals, objectives and “rules” under which the Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Reclamation and other Federal water resources agencies conduct planning studies and formulate solutions to water resources problems. These, in turn, lead to recommendations for authorization of Federal projects by the Congress. I think it’s obvious that the makeup of the rules guiding studies will have a direct bearing on the type and focus of water resources projects that are recommended, authorized and then implemented. These projects contribute significantly to the economic security and environmental health of the nation; so, the content of the Principles and Guidelines is a big deal. As a nation, we need to make sure that we continue to develop, manage and protect our water resources in a sound, responsible manner – and that we carefully plan the investments we make in this area so that we don’t waste precious resources.
Kris Polly: Why is the Administration working to revise the Principles and Guidelines?
Fred Caver: The current edition of the Principles and Guidelines was issued through an Executive Order in 1983. However, the process really began with passage of the Water Resources Planning Act in 1965 which led to an earlier edition of the P&G entitled “Principles and Standards for Planning Water and Related Land Resources,” issued in 1973. Some people have come to believe that the 1983 version should be updated to reflect contemporary priorities and conditions. Specifically, there is concern that the 1983 version emphasized economic development at the expense of environmental values and resulted in recommendations for, and authorization of, projects which are not properly sensitive to the environment. Responding to this concern, the Congress included a provision in the Water Resources Development Act of 2007 requiring the Secretary of the Army to issue revisions. According to instructions in the Act, these revisions were specifically to encourage use of best available economic principles and analytical techniques - including techniques in risk and uncertainty analysis, the assessment and incorporation of public safety considerations in the formulation of alternatives and recommended plans, assessment methods that reflect the value of projects for low-income communities, projects that use nonstructural approaches to water resources development and management, the assessment and evaluation of the interaction of a project with other water resources projects and programs within a region or watershed, the use of contemporary water resources paradigms - including integrated water resources management and adaptive management, and evaluation methods that ensure that water resources projects are justified by public benefits. In great summary, the Congress directed a revision to the P&G that would result in studies – and resulting project recommendations - that are founded on a balanced approach to multiple national objectives: economic, environmental, and social wellbeing, including a public safety objective. Although the Act contemplated that the new P&Gs would apply only to the Corps of Engineers, the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) took over the job of revision with the idea that the new version would apply equally to the Bureau of Reclamation and other water resources agencies as well. CEQ issued a draft proposal through a Federal Register notice in December and comments are due back to them by March 5 th.
Kris Polly: Specifically, how would revised P&Gs affect water projects by the Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation?
Fred Caver: As I’ve already indicated, the new P&Gs will form a central component of water resources public policy in the U.S. and will directly influence the type, nature and specific features of Federal water resources projects both agencies recommend for Congressional authorization. So, they are absolutely integral to determining what Federal investments are made in water resources, how they are made and, accordingly, the longterm economic security and environmental health of this country. The Congress recognized the importance of the document when it passed the Water Resources Development Act in 2007. With that in mind, I am very concerned that CEQ’s draft proposal falls short of enacting the policy model envisioned by the Congress in WRDA 2007. Water resources planning ought to be governed by a well-defined set of over-arching principles which set forth the national interest in water resources planning decisions. The P&Gs should establish a clear, concise, and workable framework to guide the development of these critical projects. I suggest that such principles should:
• Utilize cost-benefit analysis and other such recognized and proven analytical tools as a basis to compare options,
• Provide for the consideration of all alternatives, and not exclude classes of alternatives from consideration, and
• Require that decisions are made based on an assessment of net beneficial effects.
Unfortunately, the draft issued by CEQ fundamentally fails to adopt these principles and doesn’t establish a path to balanced solutions, clear and consistent guidance to planners, and replicable results that are understandable to all stakeholders. In fact, the draft doesn’t really establish a set of principles at all, but instead uses the concepts of “principles,” “guidelines,” procedures,” and “standards” interchangeably so that the draft is confusing and unworkable. I am especially concerned that the draft prepared by CEQ, in apparent contradiction of the directive in WRDA 2007, does not promote balance among objectives in water resources planning, but instead elevates environmental considerations at the expense of economic benefits and human uses. Such an approach would be especially detrimental to flood control, water supply and navigation projects. Further, the proposed draft establishes a fuzzy policy with regard to use of floodplains. While directing avoidance of the “unwise use” of the flood plains, the draft does not provide criteria for determining what this would be. Instead, it appears to create a bias for selecting non-structural approaches thus limiting, in practice, a full consideration of all alternatives. This approach ignores the recognition in WRDA 2007 that, sometimes, use of the floodplains cannot be avoided, providing that in such cases, planners should seek to avoid and minimize adverse impacts or mitigate them where that isn’t possible. There are a number of other shortcomings in the draft. For instance, it requires quantifying monetary and non-monetary benefits and costs whenever possible, yet provides no standard or basis for doing so. The draft uses conflicting and contradictory criteria concerning mitigation obligations. These conflicting standards will lead to uncertainty and confusion in the planning process. The draft also fails to recognize that, in today’s world, non-Federal sponsors share in the financing and decision-making for Federally authorized water resources projects. The reality of cost-sharing must be incorporated into the decision-making process. As you know, when a local community is faced with a decision to expend scarce financial resources for a feasibility study, there must be a transparent and predictable process for the non-federal sponsor as well as the federal planner. In summary, I believe the CEQ draft fails to establish a clear, concise, and workable framework to guide planning for water resources projects. It is incoherent and inconsistent - and thus not implementable in a practical sense. It substantially fails to comply with the explicit directions in Section 2031 of WRDA 07 as well as the large body of previous law and policy related to water resources. It is written so as to not require or even encourage use of proven analytical tools to distinguish among alternatives. It limits in a preemptive manner certain categories of alternatives, and - even while encouraging “collaboration” - seems to assume that water resources planning recommendations are the exclusive prerogative of the Federal government thus not recognizing the keystone role played by non-Federal sponsors.
Kris Polly: What is your advice to water organizations and associations? What should they be doing about this issue and what can they do to be helpful?
Fred Caver: First, it is crucial in my view for people nationwide who are interested in water resources to thoroughly familiarize themselves with the draft proposal and to respond to CEQ with their comments by the March 5 date.
Comments can be filed from CEQ’s website at http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ceq/initiatives/PandG.
Beyond that, the draft is also to undergo a review by the National Academy of Sciences for technical soundness and implementability. This process will include opportunities for additional public input. Again, everyone should take full advantage of the opportunity this offers. And finally, I encourage everyone who asks to let their elected representatives know their opinions on this draft. If you agree with me that the Congressional intent is not met by the current draft, the Congress may well have the last “say” in this process. The Congress needs to hear from you.
Kris Polly: Should water organizations and associations want more information about the P&G issue, are you willing to do conference call briefings or serve as a guest speaker at meetings?
Fred Caver: Absolutely. The organization I represent – the National Waterways Conference – is doing all it can to educate interested parties on this topic. We have produced a number of fact sheets and other materials that may be of use. I am willing to talk with anyone who is interested as is our President, Amy Larson. We also encourage other like-minded organizations to join with us in this effort. Contact Amy at email@example.com if you are willing to pitch in. My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org . We look forward to working with you.