LOS ANGELES—The Los Angeles District hosted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Planning Associates Program's Watershed Planning Course here July 17-21. The course was designed to expose planners to the use of broad authorities to address any problem that deals with water resources.
The Planning Associates Program develops emerging leaders in the planning community of practice. It's an intensive training program that spans the fiscal year and includes many weeks of travel by students.
The curriculum is rich in team building, leadership training, case studies, individual and group projects, mentoring, and networking opportunities with leaders from the public and private sectors. Course instructors include leaders from within water resources planning--professionals with specialized education and decades of experience to share.
Student participation by journeyman-level professionals varies from year to year. This year's class is small with just six students and from one to three auditors joining the individual courses in the program. The courses are hosted by several of the Corps' Divisions and cover such topics as Ecosystem Restoration, Flood Risk Management and Watershed Planning, the course taught in Los Angeles.
Student Cherie Price, a New Orleans District civil engineer and planning section chief, said the class has completely shifted her viewpoint.
"I think understanding the authorities, understanding how to get watershed studies going, will allow us to look for more opportunities across our District and with our partners," said Price. "Now that I understand the process more, we can look for opportunities and recognize different problem areas that would benefit from a watershed approach."
Price said she found the case study of the Los Angeles River watershed valuable, which included visits to key sites, on-location discussions with river partners, and a kayaking tour of the river at the Corps-owned Sepulveda Basin in Encino July 20.
"It was amazing to hear from the different partners—to see their passion, their excitement—and to see the difference that we can make, with the LA River in particular," said Price. "Who knew that you could actually kayak on the LA River, that there was such a beautiful, lush part of the river that would allow you to do that."
Obtaining the perspectives of other stakeholders and partners that the Corps works with to get very broad definitions of the problems and solutions is one of the fundamental tenets of watershed planning, explained South Pacific Division Watershed and Floodplain Program Manager Cindy Tejeda, Watershed Planning Course instructor. She added that the instructor team, students and partner participants in the week's activities showed a lot of creative thinking and different ways of involving communities in the planning process.
"What's nice about watershed planning is the Corps doesn't always have to be in the lead; we can be supporting state- and local-led efforts," said Tejeda. "It's really nice to hear those external perspectives and to see different ways of solving the problem, and ways that the federal government can play a role in incorporating those types of solutions."
Stakeholder perspectives were presented during a federal partners panel discussion and at onsite locations that included representatives from the City of Los Angeles, Bureau of Reclamation, Urban Waters Federal Partnership, Friends of the Los Angeles River, Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, and the Nature Conservancy, among others.
The Watershed Planning Course also covered Integrated Water Resources Management principles and the Corps' watershed planning steps presented by a team of facilitators and guest instructors, including planning experts from IWR, the office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works), Mississippi Valley Division, and Los Angeles District.
A two-day presentation and awards ceremony culminates each year's Planning Associates Program where the students come up with a critical thinking piece that they present to senior leaders at a mock Civil Works Review Board at headquarters.
"That's really to identify ways of changing the way the Corps does business practices," said Tejeda. "We're hoping to reap, or harvest, some of the benefits of their learning and turn that into improvements in the agency."