USACE Report Offers New Approaches for Better Water Resource Planning

By Ana AllenJune 10, 2024

Big souix River flooding
Big Sioux River Flooding at Interstate 90 in South Dakota (Photo Credit: Michael Glasch) VIEW ORIGINAL

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (June 10, 2024) – The Institute for Water Resources (IWR), part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), has released a report through its Water Resources Center on improving the use of structured decision-making for water resource management. Titled "Analysis of Tradeoffs Approaches Applicable to USACE Civil Works Planning," the report outlines methods for comparing the benefits and effects of various planning alternatives to support selecting alternative plans in managing the nation’s water resources.

Water resource planning often involves making tough decisions. Projects such as building dams, restoring rivers, or managing flood risks require balancing multiple factors, including economic, environmental, and social impacts. The new report emphasizes the importance of a structured tradeoffs analysis to guide these decisions.

The report introduces several approaches for analyzing tradeoffs. Qualitative methods involve discussing and listing the pros and cons of different options. This approach helps teams understand the various factors at play without needing complex calculations. Quantitative methods, on the other hand, use numbers to rate and compare options, providing a more detailed evaluation. Combining these methods offers a balanced approach, using discussions to identify key issues and qualitative and quantitative analysis to compare alternatives.

Additionally, the report stresses the importance of collaboration and transparency in the decision-making process. Engaging stakeholders—such as local communities, environmental groups, and government agencies—ensures that diverse perspectives are considered. Clear communication of decision criteria and uncertainties helps build trust and understanding among all parties involved.

"Our goal was to introduce a framework that not only helps in selecting the best plan but also builds a shared understanding among all parties involved. This collaborative approach is essential for the success of any water resource project," said Dr. Michelle Hilleary, report co-author, IWR-Water Resources Center.

To illustrate the effectiveness of these methods, the report includes case studies from past USACE projects. For example, the Central Valley Integrated Flood Management Study in California used both qualitative discussions and quantitative analysis to identify the best flood management strategies, resulting in a more informed and accepted decision.

Dr. Hilleary noted, "The methods outlined in this report provide a clear pathway for incorporating multiple perspectives and values into our planning process. This ensures that we are not just making decisions but making the right decisions that benefit everyone."

As water resource challenges grow more complex, the USACE's new report provides a valuable toolkit for making informed, balanced decisions. By combining different tradeoff analysis methods and prioritizing collaboration, USACE aims to improve the planning and execution of water resource projects, ensuring they deliver maximum benefits to the public. "The real value of this report lies in its practical application. By implementing these tradeoff approaches, we can enhance transparency and trust with our stakeholders, leading to more sustainable and accepted project outcomes," said Dr. Kat McCain, report co-author, Ecosystem Restoration Planning Center of Expertise.

"The comprehensive analysis of tradeoffs presented in this report provides our teams with robust tools to make informed decisions. This is critical as we tackle increasingly complex water resource challenges and strive to deliver the best outcomes for our communities," said Dr. Kat McCain.

For more information on the report and to access the full document, visit the Institute for Water Resources library at: IWR Project Assistance Library (