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New Report Details Recommendations to Strengthen USACE Collaboration with Tribal Nations on Water Resources Management

Institute for Water Resources
Published May 20, 2021

ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA.   The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Institute for Water Resources (IWR) recently released a report, Strengthening USACE Collaboration with Tribal Nations for Water Resources Management. This report assesses current avenues and roadblocks for USACE collaboration with Tribes and suggests new or improved collaborative strategies to better address the water resources challenges Tribal Nations confront. Ten strategic recommendations are put forth in three categories: Communications and Outreach, USACE Training and Capacity Building, and Program Management and Implementation.

n 2017 IWR was tasked to evaluate policy, procedures, and tools to identify impediments to cooperation and collaboration and to discover ways to improve it. There are 574 federally recognized Indian Tribes designated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). Throughout the past 40+ years, USACE has established, revised, and expanded partnership programs to work collaboratively with many Tribal Nations. In addition, individual Districts and Divisions have developed strong partnerships and innovative approaches to strengthen water resources projects on Tribal land.

The Strengthening USACE Collaboration report is the culmination of a two-year effort conducted by IWR’s Collaboration and Public Participation Center of Expertise (CPCX), and the USACE Tribal Nations Technical Center of Expertise (TNTCX), with contract support from Marstel-Day, LLC. In support of the USACE Headquarters (HQ) Civil Works Planning and Policy Division and Civil Works Directorate, the report has broad implications for the communications and resources made available for projects with Tribal Nations.

To complete the study, the IWR project team documented USACE’s engagement with Tribal Nations and relevant policies, then conducted two phases of outreach to gather information on what was working and what could be improved. Phase 1 incorporated experiences and insights of USACE personnel across the country. Phase 2 focused on engaging Tribal nations to hear their water resources needs and priorities, and to share USACE programs that might serve those needs.  IWR conducted seven workshops with participants representing 51 tribes, 12 USACE Districts, 2 Divisions, and the TNTCX. The report provides detailed findings from Tribes and USACE staff and offers recommendations for USACE to strengthen projects and partnerships with Tribal Nations. 

Within USACE, the authors found a high level of staff knowledge of programs under which projects on Tribal land are managed. However, some personnel were unaware or unclear about the applicability of existing policies and processes which may streamline their work with Tribal Nations.

Findings from the in-person workshops emphasized the importance of trust between Tribes and USACE, and highlighted areas of USACE programs or policies that could benefit from clarification or new USACE communication products. Common concerns arose from Tribal attendees at the workshops relating to climate change, water quality, water infrastructure management, flooding, and erosion. Similarly, the authors were able to identify and share Water Resources Best Management Practices (BMPs) with Tribal members and District staff. These BMPs included activities related to cultural resources and traditions, processes within USACE, working with other agencies, partnering with Tribes, and funding. A complete list of suggested Best Management Practices can be found in Appendix F of the report.

While much progress has been made, there is still room for improvement. In addition to amplifying the Best Management Practices, Strengthening USACE Collaboration with Tribal Nations on Water Resources Management offers concrete suggestions for USACE to improve its communication and collaboration with Tribal Nations, and recommends continued discussion about impediments and solutions for stronger partnerships between Tribal Nations and USACE.

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