Corps of Engineers improving nation's inland waterways
February 7, 2013
By Dave Vergun
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Feb. 7, 2013) -- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is working now to transform its civil works program, improve performance and responsiveness, increase customer satisfaction, and improve the reliability of the nation's water infrastructure.
Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works, provided that update before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, during a Feb. 7 hearing on Capitol Hill.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' civil works program, or CWP, will focus on better planning and budget methods, she said, to address the large and looming challenges which include an aging infrastructure and rising costs of repairing and rehabilitating components of infrastructure. These include dams, locks, channels, levees and the associated power and structural elements.
The CWP, a major component of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, or USACE, is responsible for flood risk management, navigation, water recreation, infrastructure and environmental stewardship and emergency response.
For example, CWP oversees the nation's navigable inland waterways, the Great Lakes and coastal areas. The areas are of major concern to Americans because of flooding, drought, congestion and pollution.
Specific solutions, she said, are to streamline the funding process, complete funded projects more quickly, provide taxpayers with the best return on investments, and better evaluate "whether a project or group of related projects should remain a federal responsibility prior to making a substantial further investment."
USACE will look at alternative financing mechanisms, Darcy said. These include public-private partnerships and an infrastructure bank "to make the best use of federal and non-federal dollars to reduce risk and improve the reliability the nation's water resources infrastructure."
A need to standardize "processes and approaches" across all USACE districts is also a priority, she added.
USACE will continue to increase its collaborative efforts with non-federal interests, including states, tribes, local governments, nongovernmental organizations, nonprofit agencies, and the general public.
For all its projects, USACE is applying engineering standards and is using a risk-informed process in its approach, she said.
Risk management is the process of evaluating and implementing actions based on a study of alternatives, statistical assessment of risks for each of those alternatives, and a cost-benefit analysis of each.
This is used by USACE to determine where, when and how to intervene and spend its money and man-hours more wisely.
For example, USACE decided that the cost of operating its locks was too high, she said, so the corps set up operating hours for its locks, rather than keeping them open for navigation 24/7.
"We do not plan to close any locks, but rather, adjust the operating hours of service with the lowest levels of commercial use, those with less than 1,000 commercial lockages per year," she said. "This impacts about 54 of the corps' 239 locks on our systems" but still keeps them all open.
Sen. Roger Wicker quizzed Darcy on sequestration.
"Is it true that sequestration will result in an 8.2 percent cut across the corps?" he asked.
"If faced with sequestration, we're going to have to do across-the-board cuts in all our program areas, including reduced funding for dredging, flood protection, ecosystem restoration," she replied. "Every program and project will have to take that percentage off the top."