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On November 13, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Lt. Gen. Bostick, chief of engineers and commanding general, held a press conference on adapting water resources projects to climate change.

On November 13, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Lt. Gen. Bostick, chief of engineers and commanding general, held a press conference on adapting water resources projects to climate change.

It came on the heels of the release of the 2014 Climate Change Adaptation Plan, released October 31. It updates information in the 2013 plan and includes information from two significant Administration actions: the release of the President’s Climate Change Action Plan in June 2013 and Executive Order (EO) 13653, Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change, in November 2013.

Lt. Gen. Bostick’s opening statements hummed of all the sustainability buzz words – proactive and holistic approach; building resiliency; systems’ approach; anticipate, prepare, respond, adapt – but by the end of the time, Bostick made sense of the analytical way that engineers think about policy in a very practical way and most importantly, showed a reasonable and new way forward, in light of the changing climate and increased demand on Corps resources.

It was Hurricane Katrina, nine years ago, in 2005 that was the impetus for change, Bostick said. In planning projects, the Corps used to consider the single most likely future condition and built based on that. After Katrina, Bostick said, the Corps began considering a much broader range of possible scenarios and options.

Bostick suggested that the Corps should be considering more than its individual projects on an individual basis. The system in New Orleans has quite a price tag, but as Bostick explains, it’s actually 50 years in the making, a system that needed to be in place to save lives, but which was never pushed to completion until tragedy struck.

Hurricane Sandy was a similar scenario. The areas damaged are on course to be bigger and stronger; 80 percent of the flood control projects are complete, and 65 percent of the O&M projects are complete. While Bostick wondered how to rally that kind of initiative to finish the many projects lying in wait, he acknowledged that an important part of the equation is funding.

Bostick said the Corps would need nearly $20 billion to finish all the projects it has started – not even those authorized, just active projects. That’s a big funding gap.

On a positive note, Bostick said building for climate change doesn’t necessarily mean bigger and higher and presumably, more costly projects. The Corps has learned some of this in the North Atlantic Coast Comprehensive Study, which looks at what was learned from Sandy as it applies to the future. That report will be presented to Congress in January 2015.

Because of climate change, these types of extreme weather events are more likely and will require more planning and ultimately more partnerships for the resource-strapped Corps. Funding gaps have forced the agency to look outside itself, such as seeking out public-private partnerships, In order to build resilient infrastructure and provide for its watershed systems as a whole, the Corps needs partnerships with private enterprise as both a source of funds and expertise.

This sounds strikingly close to the original goal of the Western Dredging Association (WEDA), which formed in the 1970s when the Corps’ mission transitioned to away from the use of an entirely government owned fleet. WEDA was formed to bring the two groups together. It was great to see so many Corps employees at the WEDA Eastern Chapter meeting in October. Kudos to WEDA’s efforts to bring them together. Let’s see more of that in the future.

Anna Townshend,
Editor, IDR

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