Large-scale, complex water resource problems normally require specific authorization from Congress. The six major steps in the planning, design, and implementation of a water resources project are described below.
1. Problem Identified
Local citizens or local government perceive or experience a water resources problem such as flooding, erosion, navigation restriction, etc., that is beyond the capacity of local government to solve.
2. Federal Action Requested
Local government officials contact their congressional representative or senator to request a study authorization. In addition to authorizing the general investigation, Congress must also appropriate funds in order for the investigation to proceed. The authorization and funding process can take 18-36 months.
3. Study and Report Prepared
Once the project is authorized and receives funding, the Corps conducts a general investigation, which is a two-phased planning study. The reconnaissance phase is generally completed in 12 months, and feasibility phase is usually completed in 24-36 months depending on the issue’s complexity. The reconnaissance phase determines whether planning should continue into the feasibility phase, and whether there is non-federal sponsor interest and support for a potential project. It also estimates the time and cost for the feasibility phase. The purpose of the feasibility phase is to explain and evaluate alternative plans and to fully describe a plan to be recommended to Congress for authorization. Feasibility phase investigations must be cost shared equally between the Corps and a non-federal sponsor such as a city, parish, or state agency. The non-federal share may consist of in-kind services instead of cash. The federal and non-federal sponsors sign a Feasibility Cost Sharing Agreement that details the responsibilities of each party involved. The feasibility phase concludes with a report, including an environmental impact statement, regarding the Corps’ proposed action.
4. Report Reviewed and Approved
The feasibility report is submitted to USACE Headquarters for review to determine if its recommendations are in accord with current administration policies. After the feasibility phase, detailed design of the recommended project begins. This phase is called preconstruction engineering design and is cost-shared with the non-federal sponsor. It concludes with detailed construction drawings and specifications called "plans and specs."
5. Congressional Authorization
Following a successful review and coordination with the administration’s Office of Management and Budget, the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works transmits the report to Congress, which then may consider authorizing the recommended project in the next Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). WRDA legislation is typically considered once every two years. The administration may consider including the recommended project in its annual budget request to Congress. Regardless of whether the President requests funding, Congress may consider funding the project through annual appropriations.
6. Project Implemented
Once Congress authorizes and funds the project and "plans and specs" are complete, construction may begin. Before construction, a Project Cooperation Agreement must be signed describing the responsibilities of both parties. When the project is completed, the non-federal sponsor is responsible for maintaining it.