Corps of Engineers embraces uncertainty of climate change

By U.S. ArmyNovember 16, 2014

Corps of Engineers embraces uncertainty of climate change
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WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Nov. 14, 2014) -- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is adapting the way it operates to accommodate climate changes that could cause floods and droughts.

"During the past 50 years, much of the U.S. has seen an increase in periods of high temperature and severe floods and heavy downpours and droughts," said Lt. Gen. Thomas Bostick, commanding general, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. "We all have observed changes to the frequency and the severity of these events."

In April and May of 2011, he said, residents in the Mississippi basin experienced some of the worst flooding seen since 1927. The next year, in 2012, droughts in the same region impacted navigation along the same river, which required "a significant response effort" to get traffic moving again on the river.

"That is what the nation, and the world, is experiencing," Bostick said. "These changes are increasing the risk and the vulnerability of operations, missions and infrastructure; effective climate change preparation and resilience are important to the corps. Adaptation and preparation is not an optional thing for the Corps of Engineers. It's something we feel we have to do."

During a press conference Thursday, at the Corps of Engineers headquarters here, Bostick explained that the corps is aware of climate change, and is changing the way it operates to accommodate changes due to climate.

"We're translating science into policy, we are adapting new infrastructure to withstand changes in climate, and we are looking at our existing infrastructure to see where it is vulnerable to changing climate and the steps we must take to make it more resilient," Bostick said. "We are also looking at how all of this fits into a systems approach."

Full details of the corps' plan for adaptation are spelled out in the latest "Climate Change Adaptation Plan," released in June 2014. It is expected that a updated plan will be released annually.

"This will help us to manage climate risk and build resilience," Bostick said. Fundamental tenets of the Corp's approach to adaptation to climate change are to "embrace the uncertainty posed by climate change, and to find opportunities to reduce vulnerabilities and improve resilience."


Today, Bostick said, the Corps of Engineers is thought of as operating an array of individual projects.

"We build them on a single anticipated threat or event that might happen," Bostick said.

A better approach, he said, would be to have projects that are part of the same effort involved as a single "system" the corps manages. "If you have a series of projects, it doesn't have to be the strength of one project against this one storm -- but it's the series of these projects," he said.

On a coastline, projects the corps might be involved in include a re-nourished beach, a berm, ocean wetlands, barrier islands, and oyster reefs -- "a system that has to anticipate, prepare, respond and then adapt to climate change."

He said infrastructure -- building things -- is not the only thing the corps is responsible for. The corps' other responsibilities are more social and informational.

"We are experts at flood inundation maps, for example," he said. "But we are not the ones that can influence people to leave a particular area -- that is up to the mayors and governors."

What the corps can do is provide the right information, properly communicated, to help populations make decisions on deciding where to live, how to build their homes, or where to put rail, road, communications and sewage systems.

"All of that is part of this complex system that includes both construction, and nature-based typed features," Bostick said.

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Related Documents:

USACE JUNE 2014 Climate Change Adaptation Plan [PDF]

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