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Authorization and Planning Process for Water Resources Projects

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) water resources activities are normally initiated by non-federal interests, authorized by Congress, funded by a combination of federal and non-federal sources, constructed by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) under the Civil Works Program and operated and maintained either by USACE or by a non-federal sponsoring agency. New England District has water resource responsibilities in all six New England states. The area assigned to New England District contains 66,000 square miles, 13 million people, 6,100 miles of coastline, 13 major river basins and 11 deep draft commercial ports.

The Water Resources Development Act through the years has made numerous changes in the way potential new water resources projects are studied, evaluated and funded. The major change is that the law now specifies greater non-federal cost sharing for most USACE water resources projects.

When local interests feel that a need exists for improved navigation, flood protection, or other water resources development, they may petition their representatives in Congress. A Congressional committee resolution or an act of Congress may then authorize the U.S. Corps of Engineers to investigate the problems and submit a report. Water resource studies are conducted in partnership with a non-federal sponsor, with USACE and the sponsor jointly funding and managing the study.

Normally, the planning process for a water resource problem starts with a determination by USACE that a project falls within USACE's statutory authority and meets national priorities. Should that be the case, the USACE office where the project is located will carry out a full feasibility study to develop alternatives and select the best possible solution. This process normally includes public meetings to determine the views of local interests on the extent and type of improvements desired. The federal, state, and other agencies with interests in a project are partners in the planning process.

In making recommendations to Congress for project authorization, USACE determines that the proposed project's benefits will exceed costs, its engineering design is sound, the project best serves the needs of the people concerned, and that it makes the wisest possible use of the natural resources involved and adequately protects the environment.

Once the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completes its feasibility study, it submits a report, along with a final environmental impact statement, to higher authority for review and recommendations. After review and coordination with all interested federal agencies and the governors of affected states, the Chief of Engineers forwards the report and environmental statement to the Secretary of the Army, who obtains the views of the Office of Management and Budget before transmitting these documents to Congress.

If Congress includes the project in an authorization bill, enactment of the bill constitutes authorization of the project. Before construction can get underway, however, both the federal government and the project sponsor must provide funds. Budget recommendations are based on evidence of support by the state and the ability and willingness of the non-federal sponsors to provide its share of the project cost.

Appropriation of money to build a particular project is usually included in the annual Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill, which must be approved by both Houses of the Congress and signed by the President.


Updated 12/15/2015