Consensus Report

Each report is produced by a committee of experts selected by the Academy to address a particular statement of task and is subject to a rigorous, independent peer review; while the reports represent views of the committee, they also are endorsed by the Academy. Learn more on our expert consensus reports.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently completed its feasibility study for the Upper Mississippi River-Ilinois Waterway, which was one of the agency's longest and most complicated studies in its history. The first two reports from this WSTB committee reviewed analytical aspects of the Corps feasibility study. This report considered the broader issue of managing the multiple resources of the Upper Mississippi River and Illinois Waterway, especially with regard to several, recently-issued NRC reports on Corps of Engineers planning procedures. The report finds that a key issue regarding planning decisions on these river systems is the ambiguity related to several different pieces of legislation and acts that govern river management, and thus recommends that the administration and Congress clarify the federal intent for managing this river and waterway system. The report recommends an independent, retrospective reivew of the experience with a federal inter-agency Principals Group, which was convened to provide guidance to the Corps study. It is also recommended that the Corps strive to incorporate flexible, adaptive management principles through its entire water planning program, including operations of the lock and dam system.

Key Messages

  • Even the valuation of some ecosystem restoration benefits will improve the quality of decision making for these projects. In many cases valuation of the most obvious benefits will be sufficient to demonstrate feasibility. In other cases even incomplete valuation may allow for a credible comparison of the remaining nonmonetary benefits against net monetary costs.
  • The current state of ecosystem science and economic analysis clearly supports valuation of the benefits of ecosystem restoration. In some cases the valuation of these benefits can be as complete as with the benefits derived in more traditional projects, such as flood control and navigation projects.