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Reflections on Earth Day 2021: Preparing for Future Needs

Institute for Water Resources
Published May 7, 2021
Picture of Wetland

Picture of Wetland

Excerpts from “Reflections on Earth Day 2021: Preparing for Future Needs,” a third in a series of messages from the US Army Corps of Engineers commemorating Earth Day and USACE’s enduring environmental mission. - Written by Mr. Eric Bush, Acting Planning and Policy Division Chief, USACE Headquarters. 

On behalf of the USACE Planning and Policy Division, Happy 51st Earth Day!  I am old enough to say that I remember the first Earth Day as a kid in Ohio. Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River caught fire (again!) in 1969 because of uncontrolled pollution and that helped catalyze national awareness of the need to protect the water we drink and the air we breathe for current and future generations. I think we can draw a straight line from that event and the first Earth Day in 1970 to passage of the National Environmental Policy Act, Clean Air and Clean Water acts, Endangered Species Act, Fish and Wildlife Protection Act, and the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which provides for protection and management of our marine fisheries. These and other federal laws are the legal bulwark providing the environmental protections we have come to depend on and take for granted.

With the legal framework, policies, agency procedures, and best practices developed over the years since that first Earth Day, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has evolved to become a true global leader when it comes to incorporating environmental science and sound engineering and construction based on environmental considerations into the planning and development of all our projects across all programs.

There are many ways we are doing that now, but I will highlight a few here:

  • South Atlantic Coastal Study: With the South Atlantic Coastal Study, we are evaluating vulnerabilities to storms, sea level rise, and future climate conditions on a regional scale, including effects on sensitive environmental resources, and making recommendations for adaptation at the local community level. Learn more about this study here: https://www.sad.usace.army.mil/SACS/.
  • Coastal Texas Study: Similarly, the nearly completed Coastal Texas Study will provide a comprehensive plan for protection against storm damages and flooding while providing environmental mitigation for nearly the entire Texas coastline and Galveston Bay area, including Houston. Visit the study’s website here: https://coastalstudy.texas.gov/.

I will also add that the passage of the 2020 Water Resources Development Act and our new elected and appointed officials are providing increased emphasis on things like Engineering With Nature and incorporating natural features into our projects, beneficial uses of dredged material, evaluating climate change and adaptation alternatives, and environmental justice considerations. This is one of the great things about working for USACE — our mission is constantly evolving to address the mistakes of the past and to prepare for future needs!  Essayons! 

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Check out a few examples of the work IWR does:

  • IWR’s work in the Environment includes serving on the Environmental Advisory Board, producing Environmental Data Studies, and providing Environmental Service Support.  The Environmental Section of Value to the Nation covers how the Corps has been providing value to the Environment including projects such as the Sustainable Rivers Project.  For more information, please visit https://www.iwr.usace.army.mil/Missions/Environment/.
  • Sustainable Rivers Program - Sustainable Rivers is an ongoing national program to increase environmental benefits provided by Corps already built water resources projects. As of 2019, Sustainable Rivers involved work on 66 Corps reservoirs in 16 river systems and 5,083 river miles. For more information, please visit https://www.hec.usace.army.mil/sustainablerivers/.
  • The National Shoreline Management Study (NSMS) []contributes to ongoing efforts to improve coastal management. The USACE initiated the study through collaborative efforts with other agencies and in coordination with states. The primary focus areas of NSMS include Erosion and accretion and its causes; Environmental implications of shoreline change; Economic implications of shoreline change; Agency roles and contributions in restoring and renourishing shores; and Systematic movement of sand. For more information, please visit https://www.iwr.usace.army.mil/Missions/Coasts/National-Shoreline-Management.

The Hawaii, California, and Lake Michigan reports have already been published by IWR, and the Lakes Superior and Huron reports are due to be released any day now.