Upper Mississippi River Basin

States’ Perspectives

on

Refocused UMRS Navigation Study

(February 27, 2002)

 

 

Overview

 

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.

 

 

Introduction

 

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.

 

 

Overview Comments

 

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.

 

 

Preliminary Recommendations

 

As Congress considers a Water Resources Development Act in 2002, the states anticipate that some stakeholders will seek to move ahead quickly with recommendations for the future of the UMRS.  The navigation feasibility study, which began in 1993, has been a lengthy and challenging process.  With the recent restructuring, the study’s final completion date is unclear.  The states are eager to have the study completed in a timely fashion and are hopeful that major investment decisions will await its conclusion.  However, in an effort to help focus the consideration of alternatives, the states offer the following preliminary suggestions and observations regarding potential specific actions and recommendations:

 

Navigation Improvements

 

Assessing the potential need for UMRS navigation improvements was the original purpose of the Corps of Engineers’ feasibility study, and continues to be a primary focus.  As part of the ongoing study, the Corps has identified a range of potential large scale, small scale, and nonstructural measures that might be taken to enhance the system’s capacity.  Under the refocused study, the Corps is now completing its evaluation of these potential measures.  While the states’ specific recommendations at this time regarding navigation system improvements are relatively brief, this should by no means be interpreted as indicating a lack of commitment to maintaining the UMRS as a vital and efficient transportation system.  Rather, the brevity of the states’ comments below reflects their confidence that the range of options has been well identified.  What remains is for the Corps to complete its assessment of how these various options might perform under a range of possible futures.  That assessment will provide critical insight regarding which option(s) will best serve the region and the nation.  In contrast, the range of alternatives for addressing the system’s environmental needs has not been as well documented.  Thus, in an effort to further the discussion, the states’ observations regarding environmental needs are somewhat more extensive.  The states’ continuing commitment to balanced, multi-purpose management of the UMRS cannot be overemphasized.

·       Small scale measures, such as mooring buoys and cells, tow haulage units, and guidewall extensions appear to be feasible near-term actions that could be taken at various locations. While evaluating all options is important, the study should focus on those that hold most promise and they should be considered for recommendation in the Interim Report.  A variety of these nonstructural and minor structural improvements was recommended 20 years ago in the UMRS Master Plan, but never implemented.

 

·       The states support authorization of navigation improvements that are economically justified and environmentally acceptable.  Economic analysis to date suggests that those improvements may include additional lock capacity.  Further analysis is needed to determine whether new locks or lock extensions would be appropriate.

 

Environmental Needs

 

Achieving environmental sustainability will require a variety of actions to both restore degraded conditions, as well as enhance and protect ecological functions and resources.  While many of the specific actions and measures have yet to be determined, the overall framework should include the following:

-       mitigation of navigation traffic impacts (Trust Fund)

-       integrated authority for navigation and ecosystem O&M

-       habitat restoration and enhancement (EMP)

-       mitigation of site-specific impacts of navigation improvements

-       floodplain acquisition to restore floodplain connectivity

-       enhanced refuge O&M

-       pool planning to identify needs and specific actions by river reach

-       long term monitoring to support adaptive management

 

Each of these is described below:

 

·       The environmental impacts associated with increased navigation traffic will require mitigation.  Actions to avoid, minimize, and compensate for those impacts will need to be undertaken over time within the context of adaptive management, with emphasis on preventing impacts before they occur.  A mitigation Trust Fund approach may be an effective way for financing and implementing these measures, given that many of the required actions will need to be implemented over a longer time frame than the funding and construction of the navigation improvements.  Such a Trust Fund would be established at the same time as the navigation improvement construction authorization.  Appropriations to the Trust Fund would be coincident with construction appropriations, but expenditures would be made over time as specific traffic mitigation actions are identified and implemented.

·       The Corps of Engineers currently has authority for operation and maintenance of the UMRS navigation system.  That O&M authority should be amended to allow the Corps to address the needs of both the navigation system and the river ecosystem.  Such an expanded O&M authority must be accompanied by a significantly enhanced funding level.  While this will undoubtedly be challenging, given historical O&M budget constraints, it may be the most viable long-term funding strategy for ensuring environmental sustainability.

Establishing such an integrated authority would enhance the Corps’ partnership opportunities with natural resource agencies that also have responsibility for fish and wildlife management.  This authority could provide a broad integrated basis for making channel improvements, dredging, pool regulation, modifying regulatory structures and embankments, and fish passage structures.  For example, changes to the Corps' authority need to include the ability to operate pool levels outside the normal operating band, while still accommodating navigation needs, so that pool-wide drawdowns can be conducted in the future.  By establishing a more unified authority for O&M, environmental concerns would no longer necessarily be viewed as a planning constraint (i.e., the “least cost, environmentally acceptable” criteria).  In addition, the on-going debate regarding responsibility for mitigating the impacts of navigation O&M could evolve into a more integrated framework of pro-active maintenance of the UMRS for dual purposes.  General Griffin’s August guidance appears to open the possibility of such a new approach by indicating that “modifications to operations and maintenance procedures to improve the environment will be identified and considered.” 

·       The Environmental Management Program (EMP) should continue to be a primary programmatic vehicle for undertaking environmental restoration and enhancement projects on the UMRS.  Since its reauthorization in 1999, annual EMP appropriations have fallen short of the authorized levels and must be increased in the future.  The August guidance memo for the navigation study indicates that “the report should address the advisability of modifying the … Environmental Management Program … to plan and implement ecosystem restoration measures that might be identified in this study.”  While a general recommendation regarding the future of the EMP would certainly be appropriate as part of the Navigation Study report, more in-depth consideration of EMP programmatic changes should be handled in the context of the EMP Report to Congress, required by law to be submitted in 2004.

·       Site-specific environmental impact assessments for navigation improvements recommended in the navigation study should be undertaken for each site prior to construction.  Site-specific impacts should be mitigated as part of the project.

·       A reduction in the acreage of the natural floodplain is one of the primary causes of the decline in habitat diversity, particularly on the lower reaches of the UMRS.  Restoring floodplain connectivity by acquiring floodplain lands from willing sellers was recommended in the 1993 “Galloway Report” and the 2000 UMRCC “Working River Report.”  A new consolidated UMRS floodplain acquisition program should be established for the dual purposes of environmental restoration and flood damage reduction.  While land acquisition can be accomplished under a wide variety of existing programs, many are not sufficiently nimble to take advantage of market opportunities and lack a multi-purpose authority.  There is a critical need to be able to respond to acquisition opportunities when they arise, such as immediately following flood events.

·       The Fish and Wildlife Service’s extensive network of refuge lands on the UMRS is essential to effective efforts to maintain and improve ecosystem health.  Current funding to operate and maintain the refuges is inadequate, jeopardizing the Service’s ability to participate as an effective partner in the Environmental Management Program and other habitat protection efforts.  In addition to increased O&M resources, the refuges need reliable and flexible acquisition funding if the Service is to contribute to goals such as restoring floodplain connectivity by acquiring lands from willing sellers.

·       Environmental pool plans such as those being developed in the St. Paul District should be completed for all pools and defined reaches of the open river.  Such plans currently focus primarily on desired future habitat conditions, illustrated on maps that identify backwater, side channel, and floodplain habitat.  Expanding these plans to address channel maintenance, recreation, fleeting, floodplain management, and other pool-specific needs could provide a tremendously useful tool for management decisions.  They could serve as the basis for implementation of environmental improvements, as well as navigation improvements and flood damage reduction projects.

 

·       Long term monitoring of ecosystem health is critical to the success of adaptive management.  Our understanding of ecosystem functions, trends, and responses to management actions has increased significantly in recent years, but must be enhanced.  The EMP long term resource monitoring program (LTRMP) offers a well-established, scientifically sound framework for river monitoring and research.  However, to fully meet future needs, the LTRMP must be expanded, including an enhanced capacity to monitor and evaluate the impacts of navigation traffic and O&M.

 

Floodplain Management

 

·       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.

 

Comprehensive Plan

 

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.

 

 

Conclusion

 

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.