The Context of Corps Decision Making
The implementation of adaptive management within the Corps of Engineers will occur within a framework of legislation, agency planning guidance, a complex organizational structure, and agency tradition. Efforts at managing adaptively will also be affected by evolving relationships among the Corps, the administration and other parts of the executive branch, the U.S. Congress, and numerous interest groups. To better understand the opportunities and barriers to adaptive management in the Corps, this chapter reviews the Corps’ decision making processes, its organizational dynamics, and external factors that influence the agency’s missions and decision making.
At the agency level, procedures for planning Corps of Engineers’ projects are prescribed in several documents. The most important are the federal Principles and Guidelines for Water and Land Resources Implementation Studies (often referred to as the “Principles and Guidelines,” or P&G), and the Corps Planning Guidance Notebook (or PGN; USACE, 2000a), also known as ER 1105-2-100 (http://www.usace.army.mil/inet/usace-docs/eng-regs/er1105-2-100/toc.htm). The Principles and Guidelines document was approved by the U.S. Water Resources Council (WRC) in 1983. The Corps PGN provides direction on implementing the Principles and Guidelines and other Corps policy guidance concerning the planning of new water projects. Additional Corps planning guidance is provided by Corps of Engineers Engineering Circulars (EC) and Engineering Regulations (ER).
The Principles and Guidelines document was issued in 1983, five years after publication of Holling’s 1978 volume, at a time when adaptive management concepts were somewhat novel. Moreover, many concepts in the P&G are derived from the earlier Principles and Standards planning guidance document, which was approved in 1973 (the 1983 revision also changed the status of the document from required standards
to recommended guidelines). Much of the current Corps planning guidance is thus based on concepts that pre-date the emergence of formal adaptive management strategies. The planning guidelines prescribed by the P&G are geared toward the planning of new civil works projects. The P&G document defines a six-step planning process: 1) identify a problem or opportunity, 2) inventory and forecast conditions, 3) formulate alternative plans, 4) evaluate the effects of the alternatives, 5) compare alternative plans, and 6) select a recommended plan. This is the classic, rational planning approach (Hays, 1959). The P&G allows the use of these steps at various planning stages and in post-construction operations decisions. Nevertheless, current Corps planning guidance is based upon a traditional emphasis on pre-project design and siting, and was not developed specifically to guide post-construction monitoring and evaluation (Jacobs, 2002). The Corps has had little experience in, and has received few administration or congressional requests for, the sort of economic, environmental, and other evaluations of post-construction outcomes of its water projects that would be essential to adaptive management.
The Principles and Guidelines document provides guidance for evaluating municipal and industrial water supply, agriculture, urban flood damage reduction, hydropower, transportation (inland and deep-draft), recreation, and commercial fishing projects. The P&G relies heavily on market-based economic models and forecasts, and relies heavily upon model-based projections. The P&G recognizes that risks and uncertainties attend water project planning, but risk and uncertainty analyses are not accorded an integral position in the document’s recommended procedures. Furthermore, there have been substantial scientific advances in the fields of risk analysis, environmental economics, and ecosystem dynamics and modeling since issue of the 1983 P&G document. Finally, many benefits of adaptive management lie in the accumulation of scientific knowledge and management experience, with the aim of ultimately producing better resources management decisions. These benefits, however, are not always immediately clear and are difficult to monetize (see Box 3.1).
Adaptive management’s emphasis on uncertainties, learning, and flexible policies represents a departure from the Corps’ traditional planning approaches, and adaptive management principles have only begun to be incorporated into the agency’s planning guidance. For example, the Corps’ Planning Guidance Notebook makes only one direct reference to adaptive management:
Monitoring and adaptive management. Monitoring may be necessary to determine if the predicted outputs are being achieved and to provide feed back for future projects. Cost shared post-implementation monitoring will rarely be required. If cost shared post-implementation monitoring is being considered, it must be clearly defined, justified and the period of cost shared monitoring shall not exceed five years following completion of construction. The cost of monitoring included in the total project cost and cost shared with the non-Federal sponsor shall not exceed one percent of the total first cost of ecosystem restoration features. For complex specifically authorized projects that have high levels of risk and uncertainty of obtaining the proposed outputs, adaptive management may be recommended. The cost of the adaptive management action, if needed, will be limited to 3 percent of the total project cost excluding monitoring costs (p. 3-25).
Many of adaptive management’s benefits come in the form of better knowledge of ecosystem response to management actions. This improved knowledge reduces uncertainties and should therefore improve management decisions. Benefits of better future management decisions will be realized in the future. These benefits, however, are difficult to measure and translate into dollars, the standard metric of economic analysis. The intangible nature of these benefits stands in contrast to the direct, up-front costs of adaptive management programs, such as ecosystem monitoring programs, scientific staff, and institutional support. Gaining political approval and funding for adaptive management may be difficult if traditional, standard economic analysis cannot be or is not done. Clear articulation of the benefits of adaptive management to stakeholder groups, decision makers, and budgeters, may thus constitute a challenge to persuading skeptics of the value of the concept. Failing to learn from past experiences may entail costs in the form of inefficient operations and protracted controversies that spring from policies that have not been adjusted to changing conditions and social preferences.
Specific guidance regarding monitoring for small projects carried out under the Corps programmatic authorities makes essentially the same statement.
Despite the fact that the adaptive management concept is not widely reflected in the agency’s planning guidance, many Corps staff have knowledge of adaptive management principles, and some (especially in the Corps Jacksonville district office) have direct experience with its implementation. The following sections discuss implications of the Corps’ organizational structure, staffing, and other factors for promoting adaptive management practices.
INTERNAL ORGANIZATIONAL ISSUES
Adaptive Management Definitions and Applications
As part of this study, anecdotal evidence was gathered during meetings and site visits with Corps staff involved in various aspects of adaptive management. Based on that information, it appears that adaptive management principles are not being consistently employed throughout Corps district offices. Given the agency’s decentralized structure, this is not surprising; furthermore, adaptive management guidance should allow flexibility so that programs can be tailored to local and regional settings. Nevertheless, basic concepts should be consistently employed across Corps projects and throughout the agency, as a lack of consistency of definitions and practices can limit the effectiveness of adaptive management efforts, as well as the ability of the organization to learn from experiences across its district offices.
The Corps appears to view adaptive management primarily as a vehicle for ecosystem restoration, which is understandable given the roots of adaptive management and its applications to date. However, opportunities for adaptive management applications in other mission areas may be overlooked. There are other sectors, such as navigation and waterway traffic management, in which adaptive management may be useful not only in effecting changes to evolving conditions, but also in helping better integrate project operations and program areas. Moreover, adaptive management offers a framework for integrating programmatic areas such as navigation and ecosystem restoration. Adaptive management would encourage the consideration of navigation, ecosystem restoration, and flood risk management as part of a single, holistic system.
The Corps’ organizational structure also affects its ability to implement adaptive management. The Corps is a highly decentralized organization, with 41 district offices, all of which function primarily independent of one another. These offices conduct Corps reconnaissance and feasibility studies for new water resources projects, and they employ the majority of the agency’s staff. One advantage of this structure is that district offices may have greater flexibility to pursue innovative efforts and novel actions tailored to local conditions and preferences. A drawback of this structure is that these offices are focused largely on planning their own new projects and working closely with local project sponsors, without benefiting from the knowledge and experience of colleagues in other district offices. There are limited incentives and resources, and few precedents or traditions, for district offices to seek information from one another or from experts outside the organization, or to communicate lessons from their experiences throughout the organization. Although many Corps district offices and personnel are pursuing adaptive management activities, these experiences are not being explicitly shared throughout the agency.
Human Resources and Staffing
Meeting the challenges associated with adaptive management is likely to require not only a Corps staff that possesses broad, interdisciplinary expertise and experience, but also input and assistance from organizations and experts from outside the agency. As part of this study, organizational charts of the Corps St. Paul (MN), Omaha (NE), and Jacksonville (FL) district offices were reviewed, and this panel made site visits to St. Paul and to Florida, where the panel spoke with Corps staff and other experts involved in the Florida Everglades restoration project. This section lists some observations based on these documents and meetings.
St. Paul District
Key positions related to adaptive management in the Corps St. Paul district office are in the four branches under the Planning, Programs, and Project Management Division. Most important is the Environmental and Economic Analysis Branch, which has 18 professional positions, includ-
ing the branch chief. There are nine natural scientists (of which eight are biologists), three cartographers, two economists, one “multi-disciplinarian,” one historian, and one archaeologist. Together the other three branches have ten multi-disciplinarians, five program analysts, three chiefs, one landscape architect, and one operations and management program manager.
The Omaha district office is organized differently: there is no Planning, Programs and Project Management Division, and hence no Environmental and Economic Analysis Branch. The Omaha office is divided into four divisions: Engineering, Construction, Real Estate, and Operations. The Construction and Real Estate divisions appear to have no staff related to project operations. In the Engineering Division, the two key branches related to adaptive management are the Hydrologic Engineering Branch and the Geotechnical and Engineering Sciences Branch. Both are staffed primarily by engineers. In the Hydrologic Engineering Branch the main exception is the Water Control and Water Quality Section that includes a biologist, an ecologist, and a limnologist. The sections in the Geotechnical and Engineering Sciences Branch most relevant to adaptive management have some geologists and chemists, but apparently no biologists or social scientists.
The operations division is divided into project offices that correspond to some of the Missouri River mainstem dams: Big Bend, Fort Peck, Fort Randall, and Garrison. Although each of these offices has a natural resources section, the emphasis in each case appears to be on park management. Big Bend thus has a supervising natural resource specialist in the project office and a natural resource management specialist and two natural resource specialists/rangers in the Natural Resources Section. Fort Peck (divided into Fort Peck Lake and the Fort Peck Office) has a similar staffing arrangement, with an additional resources specialist/ranger. At Fort Randall, the Natural Resources Section is composed primarily of rangers, plus one natural resource specialist and two natural resource specialists/rangers, versus four natural resource specialists and three natural resource specialists/rangers at Garrison. No social scientists are listed. Elsewhere, no economists or lawyers were included in the staff list; indeed, in the entire district office, the only possible social scientist was a geographer in the Applications and Planning Branch under the Executive Office.
Sections of the Jacksonville district office most relevant to adaptive management are the Constructions-Operations, Planning, Restoration Program, and the Regulatory divisions. The Constructions-Operations Division contains the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) Management Branch, while the four branches in the Planning Division are Socio-Economic, Environmental, Plan Formulation, and Ecosystem Restoration. The Restoration Program Division also has four branches: South and Central Florida Restoration, RECOVER (Restoration, Coordination and Verification), and Restoration Programs Management. The Regulatory Division divides Florida into four branches within an overarching Enforcement Branch.
The Jacksonville district organizational chart reflects the Corps’ roles in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Program, as branches such as the RECOVER and CERP Management Branches, which have adaptive management-related functions, have been established. Nonetheless, staffing and institutional gaps remain. With the exception of the Socio-Economics Branch in the Planning Division, the social science expertise that could help address issues related to Florida’s rapid population growth is limited. Biologists are still based primarily in the Regulatory Division, although they also have a presence in the Planning Division. The position of Chief in the CERP Management Branch was vacant in 2003 when this study was being conducted.
In many ways, adaptive management represents a departure from traditional Corps planning approaches and disciplinary strengths. These strengths have been in the realm of engineering expertise and the construction and operation of civil works projects. The Corps is in the midst of broad shift toward increased emphasis on operating a large, existing infrastructure, which controls a large portion of the nation’s hydrologic systems and distributes significant benefits. The Corps must maintain its engineering expertise in order to safely operate this infrastructure. But sound management of Corps projects today also calls for expertise in fields such as ecology and economics.
Adaptive management is consistent with this broadening mission and it represents a promising means for making better decisions under uncertainty and facilitating stakeholder cooperation and input. It aims to fuse
knowledge and understanding of economics and other social sciences, engineering, and ecology. Much of the literature on the concept to date has emphasized ecological sciences, but adaptive management requires social sciences knowledge for project evaluation and related activities. Given the importance of communicating with stakeholders on complex and controversial topics, it could also entail the use of experts in topics such as visualization and facilitation. Just as important as broadening disciplinary expertise is the incorporation of these broader perspectives within Corps decision making. Enlisting experts in social and ecological sciences, or commissioning studies in these areas, is of little use if the agency does not have the appropriate capacity to meaningfully incorporate these perspectives and knowledge into the project planning and management cycle.
A review of adaptive management efforts and staffing arrangements at three Corps district offices suggests that a broader range of personnel and disciplinary perspectives should be included within all phases of project management in order to implement adaptive management within the agency. For example, some Corps staff members are occasionally involved in projects and tasks that transcend their expertise, such as when engineers are asked to conduct economic analyses or to facilitate public meetings regarding controversial studies or projects. Moreover, there is no evidence that adaptive management efforts in district offices are proceeding consistently in accord with a set of guiding principles, or with the sharing of experiences and knowledge across district offices or throughout the agency. Not every Corps office need employ experts from a wide range of disciplines, but the Corps needs broader expertise that its staff can turn to in implementing and sustaining adaptive management practices. A small center specializing in adaptive management could house an interdisciplinary team to provide advice to all Corps offices and to synthesize results of Corps adaptive management efforts from across the nation.
FACTORS EXTERNAL TO THE CORPS
Congress and the Administration
The Corps of Engineers operates within constraints imposed by the Congress and the administration. Since the first Rivers and Harbors bill
of 1824, the Corps has been politically responsive to Congress (Clarke and McCool, 1996; Maass, 1951). Members of Congress have long funneled money and jobs to their home districts via Corps civil works projects, and have endorsed, supported, and reinforced structural modifications of waterways (Ferejohn, 1974; Maass, 1951). Congressional representatives, however, often have opposing points of view and there are indications that the Corps’ traditional breadth of support in the Congress is diminishing. As a result, the Corps today often finds itself caught between opposing points of view held by different congressional representatives (see, for example, the Missouri River case study in Chapter 4).
The president wields great influence on the Corps, particularly through the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), as all Corps planning studies must ultimately receive OMB approval. Although presidents have often deferred to congressional preferences with regard to water project construction, there have been notable exceptions. In the late 1970s, for example, President Jimmy Carter attempted to terminate several proposed Bureau of Reclamation and Corps projects, only to inspire a vehement agency and congressional response. More recently, the OMB, responding to instructions from President George W. Bush, killed a long-standing proposal for a jetty project in North Carolina. Given the influence of the Congress and the administration in setting program priorities, budgetary constraints, and the like, successful implementation of adaptive management programs will require support of the Congress and the administration.
Priorities and Objectives
There are literally hundreds of public laws, congressional committee reports, and executive branch guidance to which the Corps must respond. Some of the objectives of these laws and reports lack clarity. Project objectives, for example, are often framed in terms of qualitative goals such as “restoring ecosystem health,” recognizing a “nationally significant ecosystem,” or “protecting values.” Others are in tension with one another, requiring the Corps to identify priorities and trade-offs. The Corps also operates under the scrutiny of multiple stakeholders with competing or mutually exclusive objectives, making it difficult for the Corps to implement decisive management actions in either direction.
Adaptive management recognizes that stakeholder differences are inevitable, and it does not seek to eliminate those differences before proceeding. As mentioned, adaptive management does not aim to create a
“master plan” to be rigidly adhered to. But without some agreement upon and clarity of objectives, it can be difficult to determine whether management actions are having desirable effects. This, in turn, can obstruct the feedback processes (e.g., learning, adjustment, subsequent actions) within adaptive management. Water resources experts have long recognized the importance of flexibility within water resources program objectives. As early as 1938, for example, the (former) National Resources Committee noted the importance of establishing objectives (as well as an adaptive approach) in one of its recommendations for more efficient water management: “Adherence to a national over-all plan, revised and adjusted year by year in light of new knowledge (assiduously and continuously developed) and of shifting conditions” (National Resources Committee, 1938). In a more recent example from the Upper Mississippi River, the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association noted the problems of multiple mandates and a lack of vision in a 1995 report:
The issue is not that the Upper Mississippi River lacks programs, projects, studies, regulatory authorities, and management activities with the potential for addressing many of the current problems. Rather, there is no unifying principle or focus for integrating those efforts (UMRBA, 1995).
A previous National Research Council committee noted the problems associated with an inability to distill clear management objectives for Glen Canyon Dam and Colorado River management:
The Strategic Plan should recognize the limitations of the current, pluralistic situation. It should present a strategy for moving toward a set of common objectives … The Center … should work with the Technical Work Group to develop a revised set of management objectives (NRC, 1999).
Finally, a National Research Council committee charged to review Missouri River ecosystem science and adaptive management concluded that a Missouri River Protection and Recovery Act should be passed to “ensure clarity regarding authority … .” (NRC, 2002).
Rarely, if ever, will congressional representatives, stakeholders, managers, and decision makers reach clear consensus on ultimate objectives, or a “vision,” for managing large aquatic, river, or coastal systems. In such instances, adaptive management, through advanced scientific
knowledge and stakeholder dialogue, can be used as a vehicle to help identify and clarify objectives as the program proceeds. Adaptive management should be used as a means to foster stakeholder collaboration, identify and discuss differences, and adjust program goals and direction in accord with new information and shifting preferences. Social goals and priorities change over time. When objectives are established, as the National Resources Committee noted in 1938, adjustments will eventually be required. In the process of establishing new objectives, disputes between interest groups who favor the status quo, and those who favor change, are virtually certain. Whatever course is chosen, discussion of objectives and trade-offs should be a part of adaptive management, with an understanding that clarification of objectives and priorities is important, but that they are likely to require future review and revision. In larger systems, such as inter-state river basins, guidance from the administration and Congress may be necessary to clarify responsibilities and resolve conflicts that a line agency like the Corps cannot unilaterally resolve.
When adaptive management programs are initiated in large, complex ecosystems, and as the geographic scale of management increases, more management organizations and levels of government are likely to become involved. Implementing adaptive management across organizational and political boundaries requires communication, cooperation, and a means for clarifying responsibilities among federal, state, and local governments with responsibility for the various places and activities involved.
At the federal level, the Corps often interacts with the Environmental Protection Agency, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, NOAA Fisheries, and the National Park Service, all of which have different mandates and traditions. Interagency cooperation can be problematic and may constitute an obstacle for adaptive management: “Experimental management planning has floundered in complex institutional settings like the Florida Everglades, Columbia River, and Upper Mississippi River, where management, research, and policy change involve collaboration among several agencies with complicated, overlapping historical responsibilities and legal mandates” (Walters, 1997). Clarification of agency lines of authority and responsibilities provided by the administration and the Congress would be helpful in delineating
agency programs and useful in promoting adaptive management. Adaptive management’s emphasis on collaboration also serves as a framework for enhancing interagency cooperation.
Existing authorities for the Corps’ civil works program and projects are often inimical to the execution of adaptive management principles. More importantly, the present legal framework governing completed projects creates barriers to adaptive management. Since the Water Resources Development Act of 1986, Corps civil works projects constructed for purposes other than navigation are authorized to require all post-construction project-related responsibilities, including operations, maintenance, repair and rehabilitation, to be carried out by a non-federal sponsor. Federal direction and performance monitoring is covered in an operating manual provided by the Corps to the sponsor, and the Corps makes periodic inspections of projects to review compliance with manuals. Subsequent modifications of either project features or project operations typically require completion of a cost-shared study and authorization of a project modification. If the Corps is to become more actively involved in adaptive management, changes in existing authorities will be required in order to give the Corps a greater role in post-construction activities.
Exceptions to this rule are the “Section 1135” authority from the 1986 Water Resources Development Act, “Section 216” authority from the 1970 Flood Control Act, and the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project (CERP) authorized by the Water Resources Development Act of 2000. These authorizations allow the Corps to review and modify existing operations in response to significantly changed conditions without seeking additional congressional authorization. In recognition of the uncertainties inherent in this multiple-purpose environmental restoration and water supply project, the Corps requested specific authorization for adaptive management for the CERP. Consistent with this concept of life-cycle project evolution, Congress authorized continuing federal participation in post construction project decision making, as well as a 50/50 cost sharing of project costs. The CERP authorization is a model for future authorizations of projects with potentially significant ecological consequences in the form of either project-provided services or adverse project impacts, whether mitigated or unmitigated. A continuing project authority that allows appropriate project modifications to achieve the
original goals, or to adapt to evolving public values and new scientific understandings of ecological processes, without the need to seek a new project-specific authorization, would be an important step toward adaptive management of Corps projects.
Small Projects Authority
Several small project authorities allow the Corps to implement projects without the need to obtain a specific authorization from Congress. Section 216 of the 1970 Flood Control Act authorizes the Corps to review and modify existing operations in response to significantly changed conditions, without seeking additional congressional authorization. Section 1135 of WRDA 1986 (as amended in Public Law 99-662) authorizes the Secretary of the Army to modify existing Civil Works project structures and operations to improve the quality of the environment in the public interest. Modifications must be feasible and consistent with authorized project purposes. Section 206 of WRDA 1996 authorizes the Secretary to carry out projects for aquatic ecosystem restoration and protection if the Secretary determines that the project will improve the quality of the environment, is in the public interest, and is cost-effective. Corps policy governing these projects affirms the primacy of ecological justifications, as opposed to any recreational or other economic justification.
Although these authorities allow for some degree of flexibility and adjustments to management actions, they were not explicitly designed to help the Corps implement adaptive management approaches. These authorities also lack the specificity required to adequately consider contemporary planning approaches (e.g., nonstructural alternatives) and realities (e.g., a greater emphasis on better management of existing infrastructure vs. more new project construction). Corps policy, however, narrows even these limited openings by restricting monitoring to no more than three years (this policy also appears to erroneously equate adaptive management with ecosystem monitoring). The Corps does not require periodic evaluation of completed projects to determine whether structural modifications or operational changes are needed to improve project performance. Instead, Corps policy and management philosophy for these small projects parallels its guidance for specifically authorized non-navigation projects (with the exception of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project). The agency's objective is to plan and implement projects in partnership with a non-federal entity. After construction,
Congress typically expects the Corps’ job to be done; the non-federal partner is expected to assume responsibility for all project activities and costs, including future capital expenditures. A new authority that directs the Corps toward a greater emphasis on flexible, adaptive management strategies would be useful in backing the agency’s efforts in adaptive management. The new authority should not represent a “blank check,” but rather should contain some specificity that helps the Corps balance its environmental, flood management, and navigation-related responsibilities (the report from the 216 studies coordinating committee reviewed this issue in greater detail and provides specific provisions regarding a new study authority).
Budgeting and Financial Issues
The Corps budget for operations is controlled by the administration and the Congress, which have traditionally placed a higher priority on expenditures for capital works construction than for science-based management or project evaluations. Furthermore, most projects require both individual authorization and annual appropriations. Authorized programs may thus in reality be funded at well below authorized levels. When money is available for ongoing programs such as adaptive management, expenditures are limited in other ways by the Corps’ governing legislation and regulations. Total expenditures may be limited, cost-sharing (25 percent or 35 percent) by non-federal partners is typically required (NRC, 1999), and non-federal sponsors may be required to assume all costs for post-construction operation and maintenance. Cost-sharing requirements for Corps of Engineers projects, many of which were specified in the 1986 Water Resources Development Act, may be hindering progress toward adaptive management in at least some locations. In the Upper Mississippi basin, for example, the Corps is in the midst of a feasibility study for the Upper Mississippi River-Illinois Waterway. Within the study, the Corps is considering a variety of possible ecosystem restoration projects. Some of these options would entail cost-sharing arrangements with private land holders. The Upper Mississippi River basin states, however, often view these financial obligations as a constraint. For example, the states feel that “measures to address the ongoing and cumulative impacts of the navigation project should be 100 percent federally funded” (UMRBA and GLC, 2003). Chapter 4 includes details of the Upper Mississippi and other adaptive management programs in which the Corps has participated.
Passage of the 1986 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA 86) had great implications for stakeholder participation in Corps projects, as it mandated more stringent cost-sharing requirements for local sponsors of Corps projects. WRDA 86 has resulted in local stakeholders—most importantly, the paying co-sponsor—taking a greater interest in project design and implementation. Increased stakeholder participation, however, provides both opportunities and limitations with regard to adaptive management. For example, project co-sponsors typically have a specific project in mind, and thus naturally seek timely construction in order to minimize costs. Local sponsors may not wish to provide additional resources for post-construction monitoring, or discuss prospective operational changes with other stakeholders, that would contribute to adaptive management. The willingness to consult with other stakeholders depends on the ability of these others to disrupt activities (in the case, of the Corps and a local co-sponsor). Local sponsors may view participation of other stakeholders as a way to engage in constructive, open discussions aimed at reducing tensions and objections.
Adaptive management experts and practitioners today widely recognize the importance of open and vigorous stakeholder participation (Shindler and Cheek, 1999). The issue of involving interest groups in water management decisions reflects a long-standing, ever-present tension between expert/science-based decision-making and democratic/citizen-based decision making. For much of the agency’s history, the Corps and the nation adhered to an expert-based model of decision making (Hays, 1959). But in today’s operating context, the complexities and uncertainties of natural resources management—and thus the limits of purely expert/science-based decision making—are better understood, and interest groups today seek a greater role in environmental and natural resources management.
Interest groups, agencies, and other participants may resist the implementation of adaptive management approaches. They may perceive that adaptive management puts their interests at risk. Furthermore, multipurpose projects have multiple stakeholders with different and often conflicting expectations. Professional planners and managers may feel that adaptive management implies a lack of confidence, and would reveal only bad news regarding deterministic projections of project performance. Such tensions are often inherent in natural resources management
programs, and adaptive management is not an elixir that will resolve all of them. But by promoting discussions within a collaborative framework, adaptive management promotes the search for common ground and goal definition and refinement.
Although there may be limits to the value of stakeholder participation (Kenney, 2000), such participation in water management is increasingly promoted in the U.S. and around the world (Box 3.2). The approach is seen by many as a vital component of sound water resources decision making and is today widely viewed as a staple of resource management programs. The Corps has promoted stakeholder participation via public meetings and “listening sessions” across the nation. Resolving competing interest group demands, and balancing its federal interest responsibilities with a desire to be responsive to the public, represents a never-ending tension and challenge to the Corps.
The Corps recognizes the importance and value of stakeholder participation, and deserves credit for its strong efforts in convening public meetings and other fora to promote stakeholder input. But stakeholder involvement represents challenges, as well. Stakeholder opinions may vary widely and be narrowly based on a single issue, and some stakeholders may support policies and actions that are not scientifically or legally feasible. Responding to some stakeholder opinions may pose inconsistencies with the Corps’ federal stewardship responsibilities. Stakeholder participation has both positive and negative implications for adaptive management efforts. A review of these experiences and their implications would be useful in developing agency-wide guidance for stakeholder participation in adaptively managed projects (the 216 study report on analytical methods also discusses the issue of stakeholder participation, devoting an entire chapter to this topic).
The ability to implement adaptive management within the Corps of Engineers is affected by factors both within and outside the organization. Within the organization, adaptive management represents a departure from the Corps’ traditional culture, as well as from the planning methods embodied in the Principles and Guidelines. Factors beyond the Corps, notably the roles of Congress and the administration, and stakeholder groups affected by Corps projects, also affect implementation of adaptive management. Congress and the administration ultimately control the purse strings on Corps programs. Progress toward adaptive management
The value of stakeholder participation in water resources management decisions has been demonstrated within Australia’s Murray-Darling Basin Commission (MDBC). The MDBC has promoted stakeholder involvement through multiple means and programs, including the creation of an Independent Community Engagement Panel (which reports to a Ministerial Council) and the commissioning of an independent Stakeholder Profiling Study, which included interviews with hundreds of citizens (Nancarrow and Syme, 2001). The MDBC’s views on the importance of stakeholder input are reflected in a comment on the Stakeholder Profiling Study: “It is undeniable that sustainable natural resources management is inextricably linked with the views and attitudes of community stakeholders—successful natural resource initiatives rely not only on scientific evidence but community awareness, acceptance and involvement” (http://www.mdbc.gov.au/whatson/stake-h.html). The MDBC’s efforts in communicating with stakeholder groups may also have created the foundation for an agreement known as “The Cap,” which imposed a limit on additional water that could be diverted from the rivers in the Murray-Darling basin, and included an independent audit of the agreement’s effectiveness.
Within the U.S., the Deschutes Resources Conservancy provides an example of broad-based participatory partnership, as well as one involved in large-scale adaptive management. A sub-basin of the Columbia River system, Oregon’s Deschutes River Basin covers 10,700 square miles. Its population of about 150,000 in the mid-1990s includes several towns, five Bureau of Reclamation dams serving 11 irrigation districts or companies, and the Warm Springs Native American Reservation. Arising from an initiative of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and Environmental Defense, the Conservancy was created in 1996. It describes itself as the “first non-profit corporation to bring together State, Federal, Tribal and local government representatives with private stakeholders to carry out basin wide ecosystem restoration.” Recognized by Congress, which authorized one million dollars annually over the first five years on a cost-sharing basis, it operates by consensus while giving priority “to voluntary, market-based economic incentives for ecosystem restoration.” To date over twenty restoration projects have been supported (see EDF, 1995, and http://www.deschutesrc.org/about/about.htm; accessed January 29, 2004, for additional information)
Stakeholder involvement requires careful consideration of who should be stakeholders and how those stakeholders should be involved. To identify key stakeholders, the World Commission on Dams recom
mended analysis based on a “recognition of rights” and an “assessment of risks” approach at the commencement of the decision-making process (WCD, 2000). Such an analysis would identify existing rights, broadly defined to include human rights along with property, resource access and livelihood rights. It would also consider constraints that might restrict involvement of certain key stakeholders, along with capacity building where necessary.
There is emerging agreement on principles for stakeholder involvement. Although the process may vary from case to case, it is fundamental that it be agreed upon by stakeholders and the project authority rather than superimposed by the latter on the former. The World Commission on Dams suggested that a stakeholder forum be convened for that purpose once key stakeholders have been identified. From the start, stakeholders should know what the objectives of their involvement are, the nature of their influence, how decisions will be made, and what mechanisms exist for conflict resolution.
with the Corps and with regard to its projects can only be as fast as Congress and the administration will allow. Citizens and interest groups also play important roles. Many influential groups have a strong interest in retaining status quo management practices and the current patterns of distribution of benefits from the nation’s river and coastal systems. Adaptive management’s promise of long-term benefits through increased knowledge and better management can be a hard sell in a nation and political system geared toward realizing short-term returns. Although progress toward enhancing economic or environmental benefits has to date been limited in the Corps’ initial forays into adaptive management, some of these efforts represent steps in the right direction, recognizing that none can at this point be regarded as fully successful.
A shift toward adaptive management is consistent with recognizing inevitable changes in the settings and objectives of Corps projects, uncertainties in the outcomes of Corps projects, an increasing pace of social, economic, and scientific changes, and the importance of devising strategies to cope with and benefit from change. In many instances, management and outputs of Corps projects have not reflected changing eco-
nomic and social values in the U.S.; one manifestation of this problem is increasing criticisms and tensions surrounding many Corps projects. If the Corps is to be properly prepared to meet water management objectives in the twenty-first century, the agency, with support of the Congress and the administration, must devise management approaches that can better adjust to changing conditions. The basic requirement for adaptive management to establish management objectives (see Chapter 2) may initially appear to be in conflict with the notion of ever-changing social values and priorities. This need not be the case, however, as adaptive management programs should include periodic reassessment of objectives based on both shifting social priorities and on new environmental and economic information. Clearer advice from the administration and the Congress with regard to water management priorities and direction would be useful in instances in which a line agency like the Corps is unable to duly resolve conflicts or identify preferred alternatives.
Another reason why the Corps is correct to move toward an adaptive management paradigm is that the future roles of the agency will be vastly different than its past roles. The Corps of the future will not be the nation’s dam-building agency as it was during the 1950s and 1960s. It is unlikely that many more large U.S. federal dams will be constructed. But the Corps will continue to operate a multi-billion dollar infrastructure that controls a large portion of the nation’s hydrologic systems. The agency today is thus in a transition from a past, construction-based mode to a future, management-based mode. In a management-based setting, the alternative to proactive, science-based, collaborative water management is reactive management, with fixed policies and practices not designed for evaluation and change. The latter is likely to lead to organizational rigidity and increasing conflict. Although it is by no means a panacea for resolving conflict, restoring degraded ecosystems, or eliminating uncertainties associated with complex decisions, adaptive management currently represents the most promising path for the Corps to better manage its existing infrastructure.