LOS ANGELES - Seven members of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Planning Associates Program traveled to Los Angeles July 23 to 27 to learn about water resource planning.

The program develops emerging leaders in the planning community of practice. In its second year at the South Pacific Division, the Integrated Water Resources Management-Watershed course is an advanced training opportunity in water resources planning. The goal of the program is to broaden planners' competencies in solving complex water resource challenges and to strengthen their leadership talents.

Members of this year's team include planners from Omaha, Baltimore, Nashville, New England, Jacksonville, Sacramento and Los Angeles districts.

During their visit to Los Angeles, the planners heard from experts within the Corps, as well as representatives from the City of Los Angeles, Division of Natural Resources, Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority and Department of Water Resources, among many other agencies.

The group took a bus tour July 25 to visit areas along the Los Angeles River and to learn about the LA River Ecosystem Restoration project. The Corps is partnering with the city on the project and signed a design agreement with city officials in January.

During one of the first stops, members were greeted by Gary Lee Moore, Los Angeles city engineer, who talked to the group about 42 acres of land the city purchased along the LA River for ecosystem restoration.

The group also traveled to an area near Hansen Dam to meet with Bill Saunders, operations director with the LA County Department of Public Works. Saunders talked about how the county and the Corps coordinate efforts to manage flood control and water conservation.

Saunders told the group the Los Angeles County Flood Control District and Corps of Engineers share a joint responsibility to manage flood risk in the Greater Los Angeles Basin area, which includes 2,700 square miles, 85 cities and six major watersheds.

The planners also toured Rattlesnake Park, along the LA River, and completed the day indoors at the LA River Center. The group was scheduled to take a kayak tour along a portion of the LA River, but the activity was cancelled due to the heat.

"What distinguishes this class from any other in the (Planning Associates) program is the watershed planning authority that allows us to take into consideration a much broader, richer view of community values and stakeholder perspectives that help identify problems and opportunities in the watershed," said Cindy Tejeda, South Pacific Division Watershed and Floodplain program manager and watershed planning course instructor. "The LA River site visit helps bring these ideas to life by hearing the views from various partners and stakeholders, to help students better understand the shared vision for the watershed they are trying to create. These ideas get wrapped back into the series of case study class exercises."

The students demonstrated what they learned during a final presentation July 27 at the LA District headquarters building.

Greg Krzys, a National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, regional tech specialist in the Planning Division with the Sacramento District and a member of the group, said he really appreciates the networking opportunities the program has afforded him.

"If you don't know the answer, you know who to go to because different districts don't always do everything," he said. "In the Sacramento District, we don't deal with navigation, but if we are doing something that may overlap with navigation, then we know the resources and the agency to call."

Before starting with the Corps of Engineers three years ago, Krzys worked for the U.S. Reclamation Bureau and as a project manager for the County of San Diego.

"While I know the environmental regulations," he said, "learning about the Corps has probably been the greatest benefit because, (even though), the Reclamation and the Corps are government agencies, they do things differently, so it's been a great learning process."

Traveling to other Corps' Districts during the yearlong program also has helped Krzys learn how the various Districts operate, he said.

"From an overall policy standpoint ... you know how to work within it, but you're still going to have a learning curve on the local issues or who the local partners are," he said. "Issues across the country are different and the stakeholders are different. The environmental regulatory issues are different.

"So when it's just a federal project - federal funds, federal lands, it's just NEPA," he said. "But more often than not, we partner with a local entity ... so there's differences in how we implement things across districts based on who the stakeholders are and what the issues are."

Some of the projects Krzys works on at the Sacramento District include the Isabella and Folsom dams, and Veterans Affairs hospital construction. He said he enjoys the challenge of always learning new things.

"I think you need to kick back and reevaluate what's going on if you're not in a constant state of learning," Krzys said.

The Planning Associates program curriculum is rich in team building, leadership training, experiential training in the Corps' Civil Works business programs, case studies, individual and group projects, instructional training and experiences, and many networking opportunities with leaders from the public and private sectors. Course instructors include leaders from within water resource planning.

The program spans the fiscal year and includes several weeks of travel by students. Stops for this year's team included Virginia, Alabama, Tennessee, Texas, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Oregon, California and Washington, D.C.

Applications are now being taken for fiscal year 2019, which is transitioning to a two-year-long program, where course work will be split over two fiscal years.

Applicants are required to submit essays, and are interviewed and nominated by their District commander. Districts send the submissions to their divisions, which, in turn, recommend applicants to the Corps' Headquarters for selection.

"It's a very tough process," Tejeda said. "On the applicant's side, he or she has to commit to doing all of this (temporary duty assignment), being away from their families and trying to manage the workload at home. Supervisors also have to approve and support (them)."

Applicants selected for the program are notified by the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30, and start the program at the beginning of the fiscal year in October.

After completing the program, students are expected to use the skills they've learned to teach and mentor others in their Districts.