As post-war prosperity spread across the Nation in the 1950s and 1960s, some members of the U.S. Congress found that the Appalachian region was not experiencing corresponding growth. In response, the Appalachian Regional Development Act of 1962 was passed, which made the Corps the lead agency on a multi-objective water resources study for the region. A second Appalachian Regional Development Act was passed in 1965. The study authorized by this legislation examined the likelihood that various types of water resources development projects, including flood control, hydropower, navigation, and mine drainage works, could stimulate economic development.
To carry out this study, the Corps established the Office of Appalachian Studies (OAS) within the Ohio River Division. The multi-objective planning approach utilized in the study considered regional economic development, national income gains through the use of underused resources, and environmental quality. It was the first Corps study that specifically addressed regional economic development, and study economists implemented new planning techniques to calculate costs and benefits. By the late 1960s, the OAS developed a 26-volume report of the study’s conclusions.
As the study finished its work, there was broad Federal and state support for maintaining the planning capabilities cultivated during the study and for continuing regional economic surveys. The desire to retain the skills and knowledge of OAS researchers and the calls for increased regional studies became factors in the founding of the Institute for Water Resources (IWR). Corps leadership felt that the OAS should be renamed and established as an independent entity. By 1969, this idea for a group of economists and planners working outside of the day-to-day operations of divisions, districts, and headquarters resulted in the opening of IWR.