Upper Mississippi River Basin
Refocused UMRS Navigation Study
(February 27, 2002)
The five Upper Mississippi River Basin states believe the refocused navigation study offers a promising approach for moving forward to address the current and future navigation and associated environmental needs of the Upper Mississippi River System (UMRS). As such, it is critical that the study proceed expeditiously to a timely conclusion. The states, both individually and collectively, through the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association (UMRBA), are committed to helping make this a productive process.
As stewards of the region’s water resources and partners in the management of the Upper Mississippi River System, the states have a keen interest in the Corps of Engineers’ Upper Mississippi River and Illinois Waterway System Navigation Study and a stake in its outcome. Since the initiation of the feasibility study, the five basin states have participated in the full range of intergovernmental coordination venues for the study, including the Governors Liaison Committee, the Navigation Environmental Coordinating Committee, the Economics Coordinating Committee, and the Engineering Coordination Committee. Through the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association, the states have also monitored the study’s progress and advocated funding for its timely completion.
Each of the basin states has its own unique perspectives on river management and the navigation study in particular. Nevertheless, through the UMRBA, the states seek to articulate and act upon their mutual concerns. As such, the states now offer their joint views on the navigation study, as refocused by the August 2, 2001 Guidance Memorandum from Brigadier General Robert H. Griffin.
General Griffin’s August guidance directed that the navigation study be refocused to yield a plan for modifying the navigation system “to relieve lock congestion and achieve environmental sustainability.” The states applaud this change in scope. In particular, expanding the study to include broad consideration of the ecological needs of the system, including environmental improvements, as well as mitigation requirements, is a welcome and necessary shift in the study framework. This fundamentally new approach is consistent with the framework that UMRBA advocated in its 1992 comments on the study’s Initial Project Management Plan (IPMP). Those comments called for “a comprehensive integrated systems approach to evaluation of both the navigation and environmental needs of the river system.” Having said that, the states would caution that, in an effort to broaden the study to a more comprehensive view of navigation and environmental needs, the study should not seek to address all river-related problems and needs. It is the states’ view that the study must continue to focus on what have been the fundamental long-standing questions surrounding the nexus of navigation and environmental management. Namely, it must address, in an integrated way: the need for navigation improvements, the associated environmental impacts of such improvements that require mitigation, and how to meet the ecosystem needs of a river system that has been altered over time for commercial navigation.
General Griffin’s August guidance also placed heavy emphasis on a collaborative process for conduct of the study and development of the plan. The states welcome this more inclusive approach. In addition to state and federal agencies and organized stakeholder groups, this collaborative process must include opportunities for individual citizens to be involved.
This document provides the five basin states’ common perspectives on the Corps of Engineers’ refocused navigation study. Included are general comments, as well as the states’ perspectives on more specific potential actions and recommendations.
Guiding Principles — The states, both individually and collectively, through the UMRBA, have a long-standing and strong commitment to the balanced management of the Upper Mississippi River as a multi-purpose system. As articulated in the 1997 Joint Governors’ Proclamation, the states are committed to the “pursuit of unified economic and environmental policies,” and management of the river “to ensure the needs of present generations are met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.” These principles should guide the navigation study and serve as the basis for a unified package of policy, program, and project recommendations.
Navigation Improvements — The UMRS commercial navigation system is an integral part of the national transportation system and an important part of the regional and national economy. The navigation study is designed, in part, to address the future viability and integrity of this system. It must therefore provide a rigorous systems economic analysis that identifies the costs and benefits of navigation improvement alternatives and offers a sound basis for pursuing improvements that are economically justified. New locks, lock extensions, small scale structural measures, and nonstructural alternatives must all be among the options evaluated and considered.
Environmental Needs — The UMR is a nationally significant ecosystem that has been altered over time to also serve as a commercial navigation system. The navigation study, as refocused, is designed, in part, to produce a plan to “achieve environmental sustainability.” To successfully do so, the study must seek ways to actively restore presently degraded conditions and enhance natural river processes, recognizing that these fundamental processes are what shape and sustain a healthy ecosystem. The study must also seek an adaptive approach for ecosystem management, recognizing that our understanding of many biological and physical processes is imperfect and that both the environmental needs and available management tools will change over time.
Operation and Maintenance — The Corps’ authority to operate and maintain the navigation system is arguably the strongest direct human influence on the character and dynamics of the river. It is certainly one of the largest investments that the federal government makes in the UMRS, with annual expenditures of over $130 million. While the cost of O&M has been increasing over time as the navigation infrastructure ages and the challenges of finding environmentally acceptable approaches increase, O&M funding has essentially remained flat. The navigation study must address the fundamental question of how future O&M needs, related to both the navigation system and ecosystem, will be met. Future lock and dam rehabilitation needs, channel maintenance needs, and “environmental O&M needs” must all be considered.
Mitigation — Consistent with current law, the navigation study must evaluate the environmental impacts of increased traffic associated with navigation improvements and include mitigative actions for whatever improvements are ultimately recommended, just as the Corps intended to do from the beginning. However, the recent refocusing of the study to more broadly address environmental sustainability offers an opportunity to set aside longstanding legal and procedural debates regarding the Corps’ obligation to mitigate for past and future O&M activities. Clearly identifying the cumulative impacts of past actions, including O&M of the nine-foot channel, and designing a discrete mitigation package for those distinct actions is both scientifically challenging and potentially of limited practical value. If the navigation study identifies the full range of actions required for future environmental sustainability of the UMRS and a viable strategy for pursuing them, the fine distinctions associated with mitigation are much less important. With particular regard to the issue of whether an EIS should be done on the cumulative effects of O&M of the 9-foot navigation channel, the states support the approach set forth in the August guidance that says, “the historical and projected conditions of the system’s ecology, including the cumulative effects from all sources, will be evaluated to identify trends in the state and health of the ecosystem, and to identify opportunities to improve the ecosystem.”
Cost-Sharing — The August guidance indicates that the navigation study “will also address any procedural, sponsorship, and cost-sharing issues that might arise related to the study and implementation of measures that cannot be appropriately allocated to inland navigation.” The states view this issue as particularly critical to the ultimate success of the study. The study must identify a viable approach for funding whatever navigation and environmental improvements are ultimately recommended. This will likely require serious consideration of changes to existing law and policy. Currently, nonfederal cost-sharing is required for environmental improvements undertaken by the Corps of Engineers, with the exception of EMP projects on refuges and those activities pursued as “the least cost, environmentally acceptable alternative” under the O&M authority. While mitigation features are funded in part by the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, the responsibility for funding the nonfederal share of other environmental improvements typically falls on states or local units of government. If existing Corps environmental authorities, such as the EMP, Section 1135, Section 206, or Section 204, are to offer viable options for addressing future environmental needs of the UMRS, cost-sharing requirements must be re-examined. The reality is that cost-sharing for environmental restoration and enhancement on the UMRS is simply too expensive under existing programs for state and local governments. In addition, it is unrealistic to assume that all states and/or local units of government will be willing and able to take responsibility for financing projects within a federally managed river system, the character of which has largely been shaped by federal actions to create and sustain a nationally significant commercial navigation system.
Moving Forward — It is likely that the optimal suite of economic and environmental improvement investment will be elusive. The navigation study should certainly seek to provide sound economic and environmental analysis upon which to base future decisions and a robust array of alternatives from which to choose. In this regard, the scenario approach to be employed in the refocused study will be potentially very useful. As the August guidance describes, these scenarios should “allow the decisionmakers to consider the relative impacts and risks of selecting a particular plan for implementation.” In the end, the states expect to have, at a minimum, a reasonable basis for proceeding, even in the face of uncertainty.
· The states have long supported development of a comprehensive flood damage reduction strategy for the Upper Mississippi River System. Section 459 of the 1999 Water Resources Development Act provides a basis for undertaking such an effort and the states urge that it be undertaken. While the legislation authorized an $8 million effort, the first appropriations, totaling $1 million, did not become available until FY 02. What is most needed now are continued funding and participation by the full range of relevant public agencies and private stakeholders.
· The states certainly concur that the navigation study must consider any floodplain management impacts directly stemming from recommended navigation system improvements. However, the August guidance also indicates that the navigation study may engage in a broader effort to “identify opportunities to improve floodplain conditions.” This appears potentially duplicative of the WRDA 99 study. Completion of the navigation study should not be delayed to incorporate a comprehensive flood damage reduction strategy. To do so would unnecessarily complicate both processes. As the August guidance indicates, the study may recommend that floodplain-related planning “be pursued independently from the navigation study under the normal budget and study processes.” The states concur and view the WRDA 99 authority as the most appropriate avenue for such planning.
General Griffin’s August guidance calls for the Interim Report to “address additional authorization that may be needed to investigate navigation, ecosystem, and related needs in a comprehensive, holistic manner.” This directive has been interpreted in the study’s November 9, 2001 draft Plan of Action to mean that the Interim Report will include “an assessment of the need for, general contents of, and development approach for a comprehensive plan to address the multiple water and land resources needs of the Upper Mississippi River System.” This interpretation has raised a variety of questions regarding such a potential comprehensive plan, including need, spatial and substantive scope, and mechanisms for undertaking such an effort. The states offer the following perspectives concerning a comprehensive plan for the Upper Mississippi River System and its watershed:
· The UMRS is a large and complex river system. As such, it presents a wide ranging set of management challenges, including issues related to sedimentation, navigation, water quality, recreation, floodplain management, and fish and wildlife habitat. None of these issues can be addressed successfully in isolation. However, that does not necessarily lead the states to the a priori conclusion that development of a basin-wide comprehensive plan is warranted.
· Undertaking a single plan designed to address the full range of UMRS management challenges would be an enormous undertaking. Any such planning effort would presumably extend well beyond completion of the final navigation study report. The submittal of the navigation study and action on its recommendations should not be delayed to permit completion of a comprehensive plan.
· No single agency has the expertise and credibility to serve as the sole lead for a truly comprehensive plan. While there are also challenges to multi-agency leadership, we must recognize that the utility and credibility of such a plan would, in part, be a function of how it is developed.
· A series of more focused plans on particular management issues might be a more effective approach. One or two agencies with primary expertise and authorities related to the issue would take the lead, but would conduct the plan in a collaborative way. This approach would obviously require a commitment to integration and coordination across the different planning efforts, but would afford the opportunity to make better use of each agency’s skills and resources.
· Issues concerning institutional arrangements for river management are largely ancillary and have the potential to distract from the substantive management questions at hand. We must first identify what actions are needed for effective river management. Only then will it be profitable to review whether existing institutional arrangements are capable of addressing those needs.
The five Upper Mississippi River Basin states believe the refocused navigation study offers a promising approach for moving forward to address the current and future navigation and associated environmental needs of the UMRS. As such, it is critical that it proceed expeditiously to a timely conclusion. The states, both individually and collectively, through the UMRBA, are committed to helping make this a productive process.