The White House today released a draft of new standards for federal water projects that for the first time put environmental goals on the same plane as economic development concerns.
The proposed overhaul of 1983 standards for the Army Corps of Engineers directs the agency to fold non-monetary benefits into project assessments by measuring improvements to wildlife habitats and biodiversity.
It also aims to improve transparency in federal water planning, said Nancy Sutley, chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, which coordinated the rewrite.
"It is expected that the use of best science, peer review and full transparency will ensure that projects undergo a more rigorous study process, which should inform authorization and funding decisions," she said.
The draft encourages a new policy for flood-plain management.
It directs planners to consider nonstructural approaches -- typically, using building codes, planning laws and education campaigns to manage flood plains and protect public safety, wetlands and other natural resources -- rather than proceeding with the construction of levees and dams.
The new draft represents "sort of the first of this rethinking of the traditional way the federal government has approached local land use planning when it comes to flood-plain and water resources management," Sutley said.
The proposed guidelines would apply to all federal agencies involved in water planning, including U.S. EPA, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Agriculture Department, among others (Greenwire, July 14).
"One of the things we did in trying to get the principles and guidelines redrafted is to bring in a bunch of other agencies who were not at the table, and to make this less about the Army Corps of Engineers and more about how do we do water resource planning in a smart way," Sutley said.
EPA played a large role in the revision discussions, as did the Army Corps, the Office of Management and Budget and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, she said.
The draft standards have been forwarded to the National Academy of Sciences, which is expected to complete its review by November 2010.
The interagency discussion will now move to developing detailed guidance for implementing the standards. Sutley said each agency will then develop its own agency-specific implementation guidance by late 2010.
Overhauling flood-plain policy
The White House also is launching a new effort to overhaul flood-plain management policy.
Sutley said the Obama administration has re-established a flood-plain management task force that last met in 1994.
The new group, which met last month, is co-chaired by FEMA and the Army Corps and will recommend new policies for flood insurance and a possible new executive order for flood-plain management.
A draft executive order obtained by E&E in July would toughen federal policies that restrict the construction of dams, levees, roads and other structures in flood-prone areas (Greenwire, July 21).
Sutley said she expects the task force to focus on flood insurance policies before moving to the executive order and other issues.
Click here to read the water project proposal.