A new report from the National Research Council, titled Corps of Engineers Water Resources Infrastructure:
Deterioration, Investment, or Divestment?
, says that due to insufficient funding, many portions of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ water infrastructure program are not being maintained at acceptable levels of performance and efficiency.
The report suggests that funding for such projects should not be as dependent as it is today on periodic passage of the Water Resources Development Act legislation by Congress.
While it says there is no single, obvious path forward for alternative funding mechanisms to maintain or upgrade existing Corps infrastructure, the report recommends expanding revenues and strengthening partnerships among the private and public sectors as options to manage the Corps' aging water infrastructure, which includes about 700 dams, 14,000 miles of federal levees, and 12,000 miles of river navigation channel and control structures.
"The country's water resources infrastructure is largely built-out, and there are limited sites to construct new projects," said David Dzombak, chairman of the committee that wrote the report and director of the Steinbrenner Institute of Environmental Education and Research at Carnegie Mellon University.
In a press release accompanying the report's release Dzombak said the Corps "focuses mainly on sustaining its existing structures, some of which are in states of significant deterioration and disrepair. Funding for maintenance and rehabilitation of Corps water resources infrastructure - which includes navigation locks and dams, flood management levees and dams, and other facilities - has been inadequate for decades. We now have a scenario where the water infrastructure is wearing out faster than it is being replaced or rehabilitated. Some components could be decommissioned or divested, but the Corps does not have the authority to do this."
A more systematic approach toward water infrastructure maintenance and rehabilitation will require breaking with some management traditions and practices, the committee said. For Congress and the White House's Office of Management and Budget to place higher priority on maintenance issues, it says some reorientation away from a current focus on new projects via periodic Water Resources Development Acts is needed.
In addition, more specific direction from the executive branch and Congress regarding priorities for maintenance investments will be crucial to sustaining the Corps' high-priority and most valuable infrastructure, the committee emphasized. - Chris Dupin