Westside Creeks, a model for the Corps' new planning paradigm
October 23, 2013
By Randy Cephus
There have been many challenges along the way for the Westside Creeks Pilot Study but the Project Delivery Team has fought through them all. The team completed Decision Point 2, and in late June briefed the recommended plan to San Antonio communities that lie along the path of the creeks.
The study examined how to restore the native riverine structure and function to the Westside Creeks study area while at least, maintaining the current level of flood risk management. Recreation was also an authorized project purpose and was considered as a study component.
Four tributaries of the San Antonio River that run through the city's west-side communities comprise the study area. These tributaries are the Alazán, Apache, Martinez, and San Pedro Creeks. All four creeks were straightened and channelized during the 1960s as part of the San Antonio Channel Improvement Program.
During the public meeting Corps biologist, Danny Allen discussed the top three courses of action, detailed the pros and cons of each, and then announced the recommended plan for the Westside Creeks National Pilot Study.
Upon their return to Fort Worth, the PDT made final touches on completing its National Environmental Policy Act document to make it available to the public by the end of July. The public then had a 30-day review period to comment on the document.
Westside Creeks is part of the Corps updated process under its Civil Works Transformation. The study is one of only five studies across the nation currently in the pilot study program and is the only one to enter the program from the project's inception. Corps leaders envision this transformation, featuring a risk based decision process, will help produce a more concise Chief's Report that is completed faster with a lower cost than in the past.
From the onset, the Westside Creeks PDT wanted to leverage three tenets of the Corps' Civil Works Transformation, dubbed the "Method of Threes." They include maintaining three levels of vertical coordination; completing studies in three years or less; and keeping cost at no more than $3 million.
Coordinating with the vertical team consisting of members of the Southwestern Division and Corps headquarters is proving to be a great benefit with the pilot study program. Key decision makers are brought in early in the planning phase which allows for more spot checks and guidance as the PDT progresses through the study.
"We sought them out early and often and were able to identify potential issues early so we could address them," said biologist, Allen. "If we were going in the wrong direction, they steered us back on course."
One of the major challenges faced with embracing the tenets of the transformation was overcoming the old mindset of doing things the long, deliberate way. Getting away from the old paradigm of conducting extensive modeling and testing to confirm things the PDT already knew from similar past studies is an example, according to Allen.
"It took a while to get comfortable with making inferences based on sound existing data and applying it to our study," said Allen. "However, once we embraced it, we were able to tweak the data to apply it to our specific study area."
Implementing techniques such as this were factors that enabled the team to cut down on cost and the amount of time it takes to conduct the study. With this direction, the team is in good shape to complete the study in approximately two-and-a-half years.
Identifying risks and implementing mitigation measures as part of the study was another new feature implemented with the pilot study. Risk based decision-making was a tool that helped the PDT not only buy down risk, but also cut cost and time from the study, according to Fort Worth District Regional Economist, Norman M. Lewis.
"We used the risk register to identify and track risks and develop means in which to mitigate those risks," said Lewis.
The San Antonio River Authority, the Corps partner for the study has played a tremendous role in the project's success.
Information provided by SARA has also saved time and money for the study. SARA has also coordinated with city and county officials, and facilitated public outreach and feedback from the local communities.
"It has been really good to see the PDT, which includes our partners at SARA, working together to get to this point in the process. We are thinking outside the box and sharing information and ideas," said Lewis.
The next step for the PDT is to get to DP 3, the Senior Leaders Meeting. This will hopefully lead to the final Corps approval of the study and the issuance of the Finding of No Significant Impact, or FONSI.
With the continued team effort, the Westside Creeks PDT will reach its goal to produce a more concise Chief's Report that is completed faster with a lower cost than in the past.