308 Reports Series

In January 1927, the U.S. Congress, speaking through the Rivers and Harbors Act (PL 70-560), instructed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to prepare a nationwide series of river surveys to determine the feasibility of developing hydroelectric power in combination with navigation, irrigation, and flood control measures.  Collectively known as the “308 Program” – named after House Document 308, 69th Congress, 1st Session, which defined the surveys’ scope and intent – this program marked the first nation and basin-wide, multipurpose water resources planning program in the United States. 

This catalog contains a complete set of all 308 Reports completed by USACE.  The collection was prepared during the period 2014 through 2015 by Jeffrey Brideau, PhD, Institute for Water Resources ORISE Fellow.

The 308 Program signaled a significant strategic shift in the planning and implementation of U.S. water resources projects, as well as an effective modification of the USACE’s Civil Works program mandate.  Over the following two decades, the USACE produced and transmitted over 176 river surveys to Congress under the auspices of the 308 Program.  Each individual report provides specific data at the basin scale, and gave federal, state, and local officials a basis on which they could make decisions about proposed projects.  In fact, through these reports, the USACE produced the geneses of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), Bonneville Power Authority (BPA), Central Valley Project, and other notable water resources developments.  More generally, the program’s broad analytical and geographic scope reflected a conservation-based view of the nation’s water resources, and enabled federal officials to conceptualize development strategies on a national scale. 

The 308 Program played an integral role in the evolution of multipurpose planning and cost-benefit evaluation; and subsequent water resources planners retrospectively claimed that it served as an early, rudimentary expression of multi-objective planning – a water management framework popularized in the 1960s.  Surprisingly, only a handful of the reports – roughly sixteen – recommend direct federal involvement, and most left implementation of development plans to state or private interests.  This disconnect between federal plans and the option of local implementation obscures the causal links between abstract designs and concrete realities.  In any case, it is clear that the reports served as a data resource and set of planning documents in the hands of local and state officials.  The reports that carried favorable recommendations for federal action helped to reshape the USACE’s Civil Works mission, broadening the scope of action and engagements with local communities, as well as the sophistication of evaluative methods.

It is reasonable to argue that, taken together, the 308s constituted a strategic vision for national water resources planning.  Moreover, the program’s objectives were dynamic and responsive to changing contexts.  For example, following the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, the USACE began to expend flood control funds within the 308 Program to consider the possibility of using upstream storage to mitigate downstream flood damage.  In 1935, Congress authorized the Chief of Engineers to supplement the 308 surveys, and “to take into account important changes in economic factors as they occur, and additional stream-flow records or other factual data”; this second authorization provided legal cover to reevaluate earlier recommendations.

Through the Great Depression and the Second World War, the 308 Program persisted and offered plans for water infrastructure projects that would alleviate unemployment and provide much needed energy for the war effort.  Although the Corps of Engineers did not construct or oversee all or even most of these projects, they provided, under the auspices of the 308 Program, a new vision of water resources development and a set of blueprints to implement it.

Basic Facts/Figures:

Foundational/Authorizing Legislation:

Section 3, Rivers and Harbors Act of March 3, 1925 (43 Stat. 1186)

United States, Congress, House of Representatives. Estimate of Cost of Examinations, Etc. of Streams Where Power Development Appears Feasible, H.Doc. 308, 69 Cong., 1 Sess. (April 13, 1926).

Section 1, Rivers and Harbors Act of Jan. 21, 1927 (PL 70- 560)

Program Length:

 ·       First 308 Report (on the Tickfaw River, LA) published on 9 August 1929

 ·       Final 308 Report (on the St. Marys and North Rivers, FL) published on 17 May 1948

 Number of Reports:

 ·       Total Number of Published 308 Reports: 176

 ·       Total Unpublished Reports: 7

 ·       Total Rivers where 308 funds were spent but no report was published: 10

 Of the Published Reports:

 ·       Total recommendations for federal involvement: 16 (1 additional tentative recommendation)

 ·       Total recommendations for no federal involvement but possibility of local/private action: 85

 ·       Total recommendations of no federal or local actions warranted at time: 67

 ·       Other (in progress, interim reports, etc.): 7

Funds Spent: (As of Chief of Engineers 1938 Annual Report, when all but four of the published reports had been completed)

 ·       Proposed in the original 308 document: $7,322,400

 ·       Total (by 1938): $11,603,359.11

 −       Rivers and Harbors Funds: $6,622,712.37

 −       Flood Control Funds: $4,980,646.74