Blog Post

Water Smart—Dollar Smart

Mar 27, 2013 | P. Lynn Scarlett

Each year, the US government spends billions of dollars to build, maintain, and manage water infrastructure and water resources. Federal principles directing how the US Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies assess, plan, and invest in flood control, water storage, navigation infrastructure, and other water resources date back to 1983. The realities of science, economics, and ecology have long since thrown into doubt the utility of the old principles. Are structural approaches to flood control always better and smarter? How big is “big enough” to evaluate project impacts? What are best practices for tallying project costs—and benefits?

At long last, prompted by Congress, the 1983 principles (and accompanying details) have been updated. The new principles and requirements take major steps in moving federal water management into the 21st century.

The new Principles and Requirements will likely preoccupy water policy wonks and budget bean counters. But their implications potentially touch communities across the nation struggling to repair antiquated water infrastructure, stave off damages of catastrophic storms, secure water supplies, and enhance water quality. Water is life, and this nation’s communities can’t afford missed opportunities for better, cheaper, smarter ways to manage water—whether for drinking, irrigation, and power—and reduce risks from flooding, contamination, coastal erosion, and degradation of natural systems that keep water clean and sustain water supplies. The new Principles and Requirements lay the foundations for creative and cost-effective water management solutions.