Through the storm: How SWD is reducing flood impact in fiscally challenging times
October 12, 2012
By Ken Conley and Rob Newman
Southwestern Division Planning Division
DALLAS - The Sabine Pass to Galveston is one of a number of Texas Coastal Studies that are focusing on flood risk reduction, hurricane and storm damage reduction, and aquatic ecosystem restoration. The focus of the study is wide in scope and is a feasibility study focusing on ways to reduce impacts from storm surge with measures that encompass the shore protection and ecosystem degradation problems along the upper southeast Texas coast.
In August, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Galveston District hosted a weeklong charette which was attended by representatives of the Galveston District, Southwestern Division, USACE Headquarters, the Coastal Storm Damage Planning Center of Expertise, the Engineer Research and Development Center, Institute for Water Resources, Office of Water Project Review, General Land Office (local sponsor) and numerous other USACE representatives from across the nation.
The purpose of the charette is to come up with a new study approach that falls in line with the new civil works transformation guidelines which state that all feasibility studies should be completed within a target of 18 months - but no more than three years, at a cost no more than $3 million, utilizing three levels of vertical team coordination, and of a reasonable report size.
After Hurricane Ike in the fall of 2008, the Sabine Pass project study cost escalated from about $3.7 million to $6.8 million, but the study was discontinued at that time due to the sponsors need to focus on recovery efforts.
The originally Sabine Pass study purpose was to evaluate the storm damage effects due to hurricane and tropical storms on the Gulf shoreline of Galveston and Jefferson counties in southeast Texas and the original scope only evaluated projects on the coast.
The end result of the weeklong charrete was twofold. First, all of the attendees received a better understanding of the organizations intent under the new SMART Planning process and the changes that will be necessary to realize success. Second, numerous plans were identified that, once a cost sharing agreement is reached with the sponsor, have the potential for successful storm damage reduction.
Data collection efforts will begin and an initial evaluation will be performed in the first couple of months after study initiation. These results will then be coordinated with the vertical team and efforts necessary to identify the tentatively selected plan will be further developed.
The study will provide recommendations for future actions and programs to reduce storm damage, improve the information available to coastal planners and engineers, and be used by various agencies to help preclude further structural and ecosystem degradation. Additionally, the scope of the study has now been expanded under the new effort to evaluate surge reduction measures in the six coastal counties in the same region including Orange, Jefferson, Chambers, Galveston, Brazoria and Harris Counties.
Civil Works Transformation and Planning Modernization
The Southwestern Division is right in the midst of implementing Civil Works Transformation through planning modernization efforts. In addition to having the two pilot studies that were discussed in the Summer 2012 Pacesetter edition, the Galveston District and SWD staff completed the Sabine Pass to Galveston Bay Rescoping Charrette in August 2012 utilizing SMART Planning.
To meet current and future challenges and address water resources needs for the nation, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has initiated an effort to transform its Civil Works program to improve performance and responsiveness, increase customer satisfaction, public trust and confidence, improve readiness, and maintain a competitive edge.
Transformation will promote enhanced capabilities and greater involvement, ownership, concurrence and commitment among internal USACE team members, local sponsors and partners.
The four pillars of the civil works transformation encompasses modernizing the project planning process; enhancing the budget development process through a system-oriented watershed approach, collaboration and innovative financing; evaluating current and required portfolio of water resources project through a smart infrastructure strategy to deliver solutions to water resources problems; improving method of delivery to produce and deliver critical products and services through water infrastructure and other water resources studies.
Modernizing the Corps feasibility study process:
Planning modernization is a central component of the Civil Works Transformation efforts. The role of planning modernization in the transformation effort is to complete high quality feasibility studies with shorter timeframes and lower costs. The planning modernization process will emphasize execution, instill accountability, and improve the organizational and operational model regionally and nationally to ensure consistent quality. The effort will improve planner knowledge and experience through additional mandatory training, professional certification, and an update of planning processes and planning guidance. This new approach for development of projects will result in improved management, performance, execution, and timely delivery of solutions to water resources needs.
Measures under the modernization process for 3x3x3 include the following rules: All feasibility studies will be scoped with a target date not to exceed three years; the target cost for a feasibility studies isn't expected to exceed $3 million; the study team will use all three levels of the vertical team (RIT, MSC, HQ); when appropriate the main report of the feasibility report should be 100 pages or less and any projected schedules or budget that exceed these proposed guideline will have to be approved by HQ, USACE.
Path Forward -- "Where are we going?"
SWD continues to move forward with the overarching concept of Civil Work Transformation on most of our Feasibility Studies to enhance the project planning process to inform Congress as it makes decisions for authorizing and funding water resources investments for the Nation. We are working towards continual improvement of the processes and products that support timely and sound decisions regarding our Nation's water resources needs.
In addition to the new planning modernization process for civil works, SWD will also continue to utilize the watershed/systems approach when developing water resources projects. In accordance with EC 1105-2-411, USACE will conduct watershed planning and prepare watershed plans under Section 729 of WRDA 1986, as amended and other specifically authorized watershed planning authorities.
By utilizing a watershed approached for planning, developing, and budgeting for water resources it allows the flexibility of moving from project-specific projects to a range of projects that can provide benefits to entire systems, encompassing a host of aquatic and terrestrial eco-zones and habitats. The Texas Coastal Studies are a great example of a variety of projects enhancing inland watersheds that lead to and are vital components of the Texas Coastal tidal and coastal region that provide vital resources to the national from a natural resources and economic perspective.