On February 12, 2019, Great Rivers Environmental Law Center submitted comments to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps) on a proposal for implementing Congress’ Water Resources Development Acts of 2018 and 2016. The Water Resources Development Acts authorize a wide variety of water resource projects and policies administered by the Army Corps.
In its comments Great Rivers urged the Army Corps to ensure that federal investments in the nation’s water resources protect and restore the environment, as well as increase the resiliency of people and wildlife to climate change. The increasing storms, floods, and droughts now being brought about by climate change make it more important than ever that the Army Corps use modern and environmentally sound approaches when planning water resources projects.
The comments strongly support the use of natural infrastructure solutions to reduce flood and storm damages, and call for an increased commitment from the Army Corps to using these solutions. Particular recommendations urge the Army Corps to state explicitly that temporary interests in land are not appropriate for restoration, or for natural infrastructure projects, as these temporary interests would negatively impact long-term ecological sustainability. Additionally, Great Rivers encourages the removal of infrastructure projects that no longer serve a federal interest, in order to open up opportunities for ecosystem restoration that will benefit people and wildlife. Further, Great Rivers suggests the Corps be open to considering modifications to a project, up to and including removal of the project entirely, if the change would improve the overall quality of the environment.
Great Rivers’ comments address Army Corps water resources projects across the United States. These projects include restoration, flood control, shoreline protection, and fish and wildlife management.
Finally, to ensure full transparency, Great Rivers proposed that the public be given at least 60 days to review and comment on the scope and impact of water resource development projects. Great Rivers also made suggestions for how the Army Corps could ensure its compliance with requirements imposed under related environmental laws.
A summary of the comments follows, and the full document is available for viewing here.
Summary of comments on “Implementation Guidance for Water Resources Development Acts”
- In the midst of climate change and its environmental impact, it is important that the US Army Corps of Engineers use environmentally sound techniques so as not to compound existing environmental issues
- “Permanent interest in real property”
- Temporary interests in land are not appropriate for mitigation, restoration, or natural infrastructure
- Strongly supports the increased use of natural infrastructure solutions to reduce flood and storm damages (rather than traditional)
- Examples of natural infrastructure include: natural hydrology, living shorelines, or sediment diversions (in lieu of dams)
- Must demonstrate a commitment to seriously, intensely, and carefully exploring the use of natural infrastructure
- Conduct cost-benefit analysis of natural infrastructure alternatives so they can be meaningfully compared with the costs/benefits of traditional infrastructure
- Share successful examples of natural infrastructure measures
- Establish a process for the general public to comment and review the scope of the environmental impact of water resource development projects (minimum of 60 days)
- Public must have meaningful information on which to comment
- If working with a non-Federal sponsor, should be an interim review process during which the Corps can assess the sponsor’s compliance with substantive and procedural legal requirements before moving to the next stage
- Strong encourages the disposition and removal of Corps infrastructure projects that no longer serve a federal interest à to open up opportunities for ecosystem restoration that will benefit both people and wildlife
- Increase transparency à provide opportunities for meaningful public comment
- Disposition studies should consider modifications that would improve the overall quality of the environment, including removal of the project or separable element of a project
- Separate authorization should not be required to pursue removal
- Wishes for the Army Corps to prioritize full compliance with mitigation requirements and policies
- Avoid adverse environmental impacts in project planning
- Expanding use of natural infrastructure and non-structural alternatives
- Minimize unavoidable adverse impacts
- Compensatory mitigation
- Proposed actions: create a single guidance document to improve mitigation planning and compliance