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Corps, partners move forward with watershed-based budgeting

Published June 28, 2013
Improvements to Prado Dam outlet works and channel are one of the many projects in the Santa Ana River watershed that have resulted from the coordinated efforts of federal, state and local agencies, along with private organizations and the public.

Improvements to Prado Dam outlet works and channel are one of the many projects in the Santa Ana River watershed that have resulted from the coordinated efforts of federal, state and local agencies, along with private organizations and the public.

LOS ANGELES – “When I went through my pre-command course, Secretary Darcy told us that watershed-based budgeting was the future of where the Corps wanted to go, what it wanted to do,” said District Commander Col. Mark Toy at a workshop June 27 at the district's headquarters in downtown Los Angeles.

“I’m very excited that watershed-based budgeting has started right here,” he added. “It’s a revolutionary change in the way the Corps does business, and it’s happening now. This train is going to go, no matter what. We’re talking about more than one business line here.”

What the nearly three dozen participants (from a variety of federal, state, county and city agencies) at the Santa Ana River Watershed-Budget Pilot Year 2 Workshop were talking about is a change in project management philosophy, one in which the district and its Santa Ana River Mainstem partners are playing a leading role.

Last year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers selected a proposal from the Mainstem group as its model for watershed-based project planning, a significant and critical step in securing funds for future water resources projects. For the Corps, the goal is to maximize “value to the nation,” where projects provide significant benefits to economic growth, the environment and the social well-being of the nation.

The Santa Ana River drains a 2,650 square mile basin along its 96-mile course that runs from the San Bernardino Mountains past Redlands, Riverside, Corona and Anaheim before meeting the Pacific Ocean at Huntington Beach.

The Santa Ana River Mainstem project is a collection of flood risk reduction projects, with some environmental protection and restoration efforts and forays into water conservation and supply thrown in for good measure. The need for the project arose in the late 1930s when floods devastated towns, roads and railways along the river, and culminated in the construction of Prado Dam just outside Corona.

Developing agreement about concerns and priorities among agencies as diverse as flood control and water conservation districts, utilities agencies, land management agencies, disadvantaged communities and public works departments is not an easy task. Protection from flood damage and ensuring the reliability of water supply, conducting reservoir operations and providing environmental stewardship, meeting project schedules and protecting disadvantaged communities, for example, can be difficult and, at times, contradictory goals. Difficult, but not impossible.

“How do Corps projects add value to local projects, and vice versa?” asked Stu Townsley, the flood program manager for the Corps’ South Pacific Division. “What value can someone else’s project provide to mine or to others’? What are the linkages? That’s important to know.”

It’s important to know, because the Corps and its partners have learned that, especially in today’s times of national financial limitations, members of Congress are more likely to support projects that benefit multiple constituencies and address shared concerns than they are to approve and fund those that are single-focused and narrow in scope.

For instance, an effort to reclaim sediment from portions of the Santa Ana River may receive more consideration when it has the additional potential for eliminating or reducing adverse impacts to a railroad bridge that transports nearly one-third of the nation’s containerized cargo.

“Water infrastructure projects must serve multiple purposes, and they need to align community needs with national goals,” Townsley said.

How that alignment comes to fruition will be the result of the recently concluded and future watershed-based efforts of the Santa Ana River Mainstem team.

“The Corps’ leadership and creativity resonates today just as it did over year ago when we started this process,” said Celeste Cantu, the general manager for the Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority. “As stakeholders, we appreciate working with the Corps to assess the challenges we will collectively face in the 21st century, and we look forward to the next paradigm of how we interact with the Corps and accomplish our mutual goals.”