Planning for Climate Change in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Created: 12/18/2010 - Updated: 10/27/2021

Summary

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is responsible for a range of duties as a federal agency, including public engineering and public works projects vital to the country and the Department of Defense. Climate change is expected to significantly affect public infrastructure. USACE is preparing for climate change by coordinating with other water resource management agencies and incorporating climate change into its internal projects, programs, and policies. In March 2017, several of these efforts were halted or terminated in favor of energy development on federal lands by Executive Order 13783, Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth. In January 2021, EO 13783 was replaced by EO 14008, Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad.

Background

USACE’s mission is to “provide public engineering services in peace and war to strengthen [the United States’] security, energize the economy, and reduce risks from disasters.” Within its purview are a number of activities at risk from the impacts of climate change, including flood control and protection, beach nourishment, dredging, ecosystem restoration, and design and management of military facilities.

Implementation

USACE has engaged with a number of climate change-related activities, including collaboration with other federal agencies on water resources management, incorporating sea level rise into planning and siting design standards, and creating a climate change response program to guide internal action.

Interagency Workgroup on Climate Change and Water Resources.
Along with the Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), USACE formed a working group to address water resources management in the face of climate change. The group produced Climate Change and Water Resources Management: A Federal Perspective in 2009, which describes climate change impacts on water resources and identifies gaps needed to improve management strategies. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Emergency Management Agency, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and U.S. Department of Agriculture have since joined.

Creating Resilient Water Utilities (CRWU) Working Group.
USACE was part of the CRWU Working Group, which along with representatives from water utilities, state and local governments, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and NOAA, helped design the CRWU Program. The program provides the water utilities sector with tools to prepare for climate change by developing and implementing adaptation plans.

Incorporating Sea Level Rise into Planning and Siting Design Standards.
USACE, along with scientists from NOAA and USGS, developed guidelines on how to incorporate sea level rise into Civil Works Projects (Circular 1165-2-211) in 2009. The document described a procedure for engineers to estimate low, medium, and high sea level rise projections to be used in the design of infrastructure. Subsequent guidance was released on sea level rise projections, including Incorporating Sea Level Change in Civil Works Program (December 2013) and Procedures to Evaluate Sea Level Change: Impacts, Responses, and Adaptation (June 2019). This guidance has been integrated into two decision support tools, Beach-fx and the Generation Two Coastal Risk Model.

Engineering With Nature
USACE created the Engineering With Nature (EWN) program to highlight the utility of natural and nature-based approaches along with structural techniques that can support different objectives. USACE districts in Galveston, Texas, Buffalo, New York, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania are acting as long-term demonstration sites or “proving grounds” for EWN principles. In 2018, EWN published an atlas sharing examples of projects using natural and nature-based features to achieve different goals such as risk reduction and habitat restoration.

Responses to Climate Change (RCC) Program (www.corpsclimate.us).
The mission of the RCC Program is to “develop, implement, and assess adjustments or changes in operations and decision environments to enhance resilience or reduce the vulnerability of [ACE] projects, systems, and programs to observed or expected changes in climate.” The RCC Program Team has developed and implemented demonstration projects to support adaptation efforts. These projects focus on assessing regional climate impacts, identifying adaptation challenges and opportunities, assessing the vulnerability of USACE projects to climate change, and improving climate change communication efforts, among others. Lessons learned from several projects are documented in a 2017 report, such as the importance of establishing policies to provide legal and technical justification for adaptation action, phasing adaptation into existing projects and embracing flexibility, engaging in meaningful conversations and collaborations with stakeholders, and accounting for potential costs over time.

Outcomes and Conclusions

USACE is responsible for the design and management of public engineering services in the United States. USACE is actively working to address climate change by collaborating with other federal agencies and developing adaptation strategies and options to prepare internal projects and programs for the impacts of climate change. USACE released a Climate Preparedness and Resilience Policy Statement and Climate Change Adaptation Plan (2014, 2015 Update) as mandated by Executive Order (EO) 13653, Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change. EO 13653 was revoked in March 2017 by EO 13783, Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth.

The Biden Administration released Executive Order 14008, Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad, in January 2021. The order requires each agency to submit climate action plans for review by the National Climate Task Force, White House Council on Environmental Quality, and Office of Management and Budget, and to report on implementation progress annually. On October 7, 2021, 23 agencies released adaptation and resilience plans to guide federal action on climate change, including the USACE. The 2021 adaptation plan commits the department to:

  • Support climate-resilient investments in USACE programs and policies as well as sites and facilities;
  • Enable tribal, state, and local preparedness; and
  • Develop climate projections and tools to support decision-making.

Resources:
Climate Change and Water Working Group (CCAWWG) 
Procedures to Evaluate Sea Level Rise Change: Impacts, Responses, and Adaptation 
Beach-fx
Engineering with Nature
USACE Climate Preparedness and Resilience Pilots and Demonstrations 
Report on Lessons Learned from USACE Climate Change Adaptation Pilot Projects
USACE Climate Preparedness and Resilience Policy Statement
USACE Climate Change Adaptation Plan 2015 Update

Status

Information collected through publications. Last updated 10/21.

Project File (s)

RCC Program Climate Change and Water Resources Management: A Federal Perspective

Citation

Gregg, R. M. (2021). Planning for Climate Change in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers [Case study on a project of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers]. Version 2.0. Product of EcoAdapt’s State of Adaptation Program. (Last updated October 2021)

Project Contact(s)

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has approximately 34,000 dedicated Civilians and Soldiers delivering engineering services to customers in more than 90 countries worldwide.

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