Upper Mississippi River System: Proposals to Restore an Inland Waterways Ecosystem
CRS Report for Congress
Upper Mississippi River System: Proposals to
Restore an Inland Waterway’s Ecosystem
Updated August 24, 2005
Analyst in Energy and Environmental Policy
Resources, Science, and Industry Division
Nicole T. Carter
Analyst in Environmental Policy
Resources, Science, and Industry Division
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
Upper Mississippi River System:
Proposals to Restore an Inland Waterway’s Ecosystem
Recent proposals to expand the Upper Mississippi River-Illinois Waterway
(UMR-IWW) — a major transportation route for products moving to and from
Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin — have met with significant
controversy. Some of this controversy centers on the cumulative environmental
effects of the current navigation system and the proposed expansion. The Upper
Mississippi River System (UMRS) — which includes the navigation channel and
surrounding floodplain — supports an unusually large number of species for a
temperate river. The UMR-IWW navigation system alters UMRS habitat and
contributes to a decline in the abundance of some species. For example, locks, dams,
and other channel structures inhibit the movement of fish between and within river
segments; fill side channels, backwaters, and wetlands with sediment; and suppress
plant growth by reducing water clarity.
In 2001, in response to criticism that draft navigation feasibility studies did not
look at navigation’s cumulative environmental effects, the Corps restructured its
feasibility study to include an ecosystem restoration component. In late September
2004, the Corps released a final feasibility report recommending that Congress
approve a 50-year framework for combined ecosystem restoration and navigation
improvements. The ecosystem restoration component is aimed at maintaining and
restoring a broad array of habitats and ecosystem processes at a total cost of $5.3
billion for the 50-year plan. Authorization of an initial set of both restoration
projects at $1.58 billion and navigation projects at $2.03 billion has been proposed
in the 109th Congress. (For a discussion of proposed legislation, see CRS Report
RL32915, Upper Mississippi River-Illinois Waterway Investments: Legislation in the
The federal responsibility (and more specifically the role of the Corps) for
restoring ecosystems altered by federal projects is still being defined. Consequently,
the scope of large-scale restoration efforts and the federal/non-federal cost-share are
being developed largely on a case-by-case basis. The Corps’ UMRS restoration plan
recommends actions limited to the navigation system and its floodplain, with federal
responsibility for more than 90% of the cost. The underlying question is whether, or
in what form, Congress will authorize and appropriate funds for ecosystem
restoration on the UMRS. If authorized, UMRS restoration would be the Corps’
second large-scale restoration effort and the first large-scale restoration effort for a
high-volume commercial waterway.
This report explains what is meant by restoration and why the UMRS ecosystem
is being considered for restoration, the Corps’ restoration plan, and some of the
issues in the debate over federal investment in this restoration. This report will be
updated as events warrant.
Congressional Authorization Context..................................1
Navigation-Ecosystem Restoration Authorization Decision.........1
Evolution of Ecosystem Restoration Plan.......................3
UMRS Ecosystem Change...........................................4
Responding to Decline......................................7
The Corps’ Proposal for Ecosystem Restoration..........................8
Corps’ Preferred Ecosystem Restoration Plan........................8
Integrated Navigation and Ecosystem Management...............9
Preferred and Alternative Plans..................................11
The Corps’ Proposal for a 15-Year First Increment...................13
Debate Over the Corps’ Ecosystem Restoration Proposal..................15
Restoration Magnitude and Cost.............................15
Related CRS Documents...........................................20
List of Figures
Figure 1. UMRS and UMR-IWW Comparison...........................1
Figure 2. Map of the UMR-IWW Navigation System......................2
Figure 3. Upper Mississippi and Illinois River Watershed..................6
List of Tables
Table 1. Corps Analyzed Ecosystem Restoration Alternatives..............12
Upper Mississippi River System: Proposals
to Restore an Inland Waterway’s Ecosystem
Congressional Authorization Context
Navigation-Ecosystem Restoration Authorization Decision. Federal
efforts to restore ecosystems over wide areas are being planned and initiated around
the country. Restoration of the Upper Mississippi River System (UMRS) — the
navigable portions of the Upper Mississippi River, Illinois Waterway, and other
tributaries, and the associated floodplain (see Figure 1)1 — is one of these efforts.
Congress must authorize restoration investments before implementation can begin.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) has developed a plan for UMRS
restoration as part of an effort to study measures to improve navigation efficiency on
the Upper Mississippi River-Illinois Waterway (UMR-IWW) navigation system —
a major transportation route for goods into and out of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota,
Missouri, and Wisconsin. The UMR-IWW includes 1,200 miles of navigable
waterways and many navigational improvements (see Figure 2). According to
commercial users of the navigation system — primarily shippers and agricultural
producers — it has been beset by increasing traffic congestion and delays related to
aging infrastructure and limitations of existing lock capacity.
Figure 1. UMRS and UMR-IWW Comparison
Source: Corps, Final Integrated Feasibility Report and PEIS, p. 4.
1 The UMRS includes the Upper Mississippi River from Minneapolis, Minnesota, to Cairo,
Illinois (854 river miles); the Illinois Waterway from Chicago to Grafton, Illinois (327 river
miles); and navigable portions of the Minnesota (15 river miles), St. Croix (24 river miles),
Black (1 river mile), and Kaskaskia River (36 river miles).
Figure 2. Map of the UMR-IWW Navigation System
Source: Corps, Final Integrated Feasibility Report and PEIS, p. 4.
To inform the congressional decision on whether to authorize investments in
navigation and ecosystem restoration, the Corps released a Final Integrated
Feasibility Report and Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for the UMR-
IWW System Navigation Feasibility Study in late September 2004.2 The report
proposes a 50-year plan for combined UMR-IWW navigation and UMRS restoration
investments and recommends expanding the project purpose of the UMR-IWW to
include ecosystem restoration, thus facilitating dual-purpose management. From the
50-year plan, the Corps recommends authorization of a first increment of investments
— $1.88 billion for seven new locks and small-scale navigation measures, and $1.46
billion for a 15-year ecosystem restoration effort. A recommendation by the Corps’
Chief of Engineers was released December 15, 2004 and sent to the Assistant
Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) for further review. From there it will undergo
review by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
2 Hereafter referred to as Corps, Final Feasibility Report and PEIS. Available at [http://
www2.mvr .usace.army.mil/umr -i wws ns/documents/Main_Report_Final.pdf].
This report describes the context for the congressional decision to authorize
ecosystem restoration investments.3 First, the report provides a brief introduction and
explains the ecosystem change of the UMRS. Second, it reviews the Corps’ preferred
and alternative plans, including the Corps’ preferred 50-year plan, alternative 50-year
plans, and the first 15-year increment. Last, this report presents key aspects of the
debate over the congressional authorization of an ecosystem restoration effort,
including the magnitude and cost, cost-share, scope, and linkage between ecosystem
restoration and navigation investments. (For information on the navigation decision,
see CRS Issue Brief IB10133, Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) : Army
Corps of Engineers Authorization Issues in the 109th Congress, coordinated by
Nicole T. Carter.)
Evolution of Ecosystem Restoration Plan. The Corps’ feasibility study,
which began in 1993 to investigate the long-run navigation needs of the UMR-IWW,
has been the subject of much controversy. In particular, allegations contending that
the Corps manipulated a benefit-cost analysis to support UMR-IWW navigation lock
expansion and the subsequent investigation are cited by some Corps observers as
evidence that fundamental changes need to be made in the Corps project4
development and approval process. The Corps had also been criticized by state and
federal natural resource agencies and environmental groups, since the early years of
the study, for not including mitigation of environmental impacts beyond the
incremental environment impacts of lock expansion; the National Research Council
(NRC) of the National Academy of Sciences repeated this criticism in a 2001 report
reviewing the feasibility study.5 In response in 2001, the Corps reformulated the
economic analysis and added an ecosystem restoration component to the study to
examine measures to address the cumulative environmental impacts of navigation
and other stressors of the UMRS ecosystem. The NRC continues to review the study.
A second NRC panel produced a report in December 2003 that reviews the6
reformulated study, and another report in October 2004 that comments on a draft
Corps feasibility report from April 2004.7 The same NRC panel is working on
3 For more information on the Corps’ proposal for navigation improvements, see CRS
Report RL32470, Upper Mississippi River-Illinois Waterway Navigation Expansion: An
Agricultural Transportation and Environmental Context, coordinated by Randy Schnepf.
4 For a discussion of Corps reform, see CRS Issue Brief IB10133, Water Resources
Development Act: Army Corps of Engineers Authorization Issues in the 109th Congress,
coordinated by Nicole T. Carter.
5 The Department of Defense requested, in February 2000, that the National Research
Council independently review the Corps’ ongoing feasibility study. The National Academy
of Sciences completed its report in 2001. National Academy of Sciences, Inland Navigation
System Planning: The Upper Mississippi River-Illinois Waterway (Washington, 2001).
6 National Research Council, Review of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Upper
Mississippi-Illinois Waterway Restructured Study: Interim Report (Washington: National
Academy Press, December 2003).
7 The prepublication version of the October 2004 report, Review of the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers Restructured Upper Mississippi River-Illinois Waterway Feasibility Study:
Second Report is available at [http://books.nap.edu/catalog/11109.html]. Hereafter referred
to as October 2004 NRC report.
The Corps’ reformulated analysis has not significantly reduced the debate over
the urgency, necessity, and national benefit of expanded navigation capacity. The
Corps’ ecosystem restoration plan has been less controversial, with the discussion
being largely focused on the magnitude and cost of the restoration effort, the
federal/non-federal cost-share, the scope of the restoration effort (i.e., a focus on the
navigation project or the larger watershed), and the linkage between navigation and
restoration for river management and federal investments.
Legislation. The 109th Congress has introduced two bills to authorize
ecosystem restoration as part UMR-IWW investments. These bills — S. 728 and
H.R. 2864 (Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2005) — would
authorize many of the investments the Corps recommended; each would authorize
$2.03 billion for navigation, and $1.58 billion for ecosystem restoration. These bills
are discussed further in CRS Report RL32915, Upper Mississippi River-Illinoisth
Waterway Investments: Legislation in the 109 Congress, by Nicole T. Carter and
UMRS Ecosystem Change
Congress identified the UMRS as a nationally significant ecosystem and
commercial navigation system in the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA)
of 1986 (P.L. 99-662). According to the Corps and basin state representatives, the
UMRS ecosystem is in decline and action is needed if further degradation is to be
avoided.8 The UMRS has been changed by multiple factors, with the construction
of navigation infrastructure and water management for navigation being principal
among these factors. Thirty-seven lock and dams and channel training structures that
create a 9-foot deep navigation channel alter the distribution and movement of river
water. These changes allow for low-cost transportation between the Upper
Mississippi River Basin and the Gulf of Mexico’s ocean ports; however, these
structures also inhibit the movement of some animal species between and within
river segments; fill side channels, backwaters, and wetlands with sediment; and
suppress plant growth by reducing water clarity. Other factors also have contributed
to ecosystem decline, including land-use practices in the watershed that cause
sediment to enter the system and levees that isolate floodplains from the river. The
Mississippi and Illinois Rivers also have a long history of impaired water quality
attributable to contamination from agricultural, industrial, residential, and municipal
sources. Figure 3 shows the Upper Mississippi-Illinois River watershed — the area
drained by the two rivers and their tributaries. The watershed, at 121 million acres
(190,000 square miles; 6% of the lower 48 states), is much larger than the UMRS,
8 Corps, Final Feasibility Report and PEIS, p. 96; Gary R. Clark, Upper Mississippi River
Basin Association (UMRBA), Testimony on Upper Mississippi River and Illinois River
Recommendations for Navigation Improvements and Ecosystem Restoration before the
Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment Committee on Transportation and
Infrastructure U.S. House of Representatives (June 24, 2004). Hereafter referred to as Upper
Mississippi River Basin Association June 24, 2004 testimony. The UMRBA is an interstate
organization of governor-appointed representatives from all five basin states to help
coordinate the states’ river-related programs and policies and work with federal agencies
that have river responsibilities.
which is limited to the navigable river reaches and associated floodplains and covers
UMRS Significance. According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the9
UMRS is one of the nation’s greatest ecological “treasures.” Due to the complexity
of the system and its north-south orientation, the UMRS is unique among large10
temperate rivers in that it supports an unusually large number of fish species. More
than 150 species of freshwater fish (25% of all North American fish) have been
reported to inhabit the UMRS. Overall, the UMRS provides temporary or permanent
habitat to more than 485 species of fish, birds, and animals.11 The UMRS also
supports recreational opportunities. Annually, there are 12 million recreational visits
to the UMRS;12 boating, sightseeing, sports fishing, hunting, and trapping are some13
of the more popular recreational uses. It is estimated that recreation activities
generate $1.2 billion and over 18,000 jobs annually.14
Congress has recognized the importance of UMRS habitat since early in the 20th
century. Congress established the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and
Fish Refuge in 1924, but specified that it is not to interfere with navigation.15 It
provides 242,400 acres of habitat for migratory and local birds, animals, wildflowers
and aquatic plants, fish, and other aquatic life. This refuge, which is administered by
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, covers 261 miles along the Mississippi River.
9 U.S. Department of the Interior, Geological Survey, Ecological Status and Trends of the
Upper Mississippi River System 1998. p. 12-2. Hereafter referred to as USGS, Status and
10 Ibid., p. 12-2.
11 Corps, Final Feasibility Report and PEIS, p. 470.
12 A recreational visit is defined as one person visiting for one day. One person visiting for
two days, or two people visiting for one day each, would equal two recreational visits.
13 Corps, Final Feasibility Report and PEIS, p. 146-147.
14 Ibid., p. 147. This includes revenue from people who hunt, fish, boat, sightsee, or
otherwise visit the river and communities.
15 Upper Mississippi River Wildlife and Fish Refuge Act of June, 1924 Ch. 346 (16 U.S.C.
721-731) The UMRS also includes four other fish and wildlife refuges. These are the Mark
Twain, Trempealeau, Minnesota Valley, and Illinois River National Wildlife Refuges.
Overall, the refuges cover 297,000 acres.
Figure 3. Upper Mississippi and Illinois River Watershed
Source: Upper Mississippi River Basin Association, at [http://www.umrba.org/basinfacts.htm]
Ecosystem Decline. Although the UMRS provides recreation and species
habitat, the federal infrastructure on the UMR-IWW was authorized by Congress for
the purpose of navigation. The Corps manages the Upper Mississippi River and the
Illinois River to provide a 9-foot navigation channel. To create this channel, the
rivers were transformed from free-flowing rivers into a series of separated navigation
pools behind locks and dams. These changes in the hydrologic regime alter water
quality parameters, such as temperature, dissolved oxygen, and sediment transport,
thereby ultimately affecting fish and wildlife and terrestrial and aquatic ecosystem
processes, such as intermittent inundation and drying.16
Consequently, side channels, backwater, and wetlands are filling in with
sediment (see Figure 1). While the loss of total aquatic habitat (1.4%)17 may be
small, the proportional loss of backwaters exceeded 10% in more than half of the18
reaches examined. Some of the reaches are projected to lose from 20 to 30 percent
of their backwaters in the next 50 years.”19 Under current sedimentation rates, many
backwater areas throughout the UMRS will probably become terrestrial areas within
the next 50 to 100 years.20 Including fish, mammals, birds, and amphibians, the
UMRS is home to 36 federally listed rare, threatened, or endangered species.
According to the United States Geological Survey, mussels are a good indicator
of ecosystem health. While 50 species of mussels were once found in the UMRS,
recent surveys have documented a drop to 30 species, two of which are federally
listed as endangered.21 This decrease may indicate a broader ecosystem decline.
Ecosystem changes have not reduced the number of fish species found in the
UMRS. However, they have affected the distribution and abundance of some
species.22 For example, lack of suitable winter habitat threatens some popular23
backwater species, including bluegill, crappies, and large mouth bass. The river
also contains a federally listed endangered fish — the pallid sturgeon — and over 5024
state-listed rare, threatened, or endangered fish.
Responding to Decline. In response to ecosystem changes, environmental
enhancement projects have been undertaken since WRDA 1986 in which Congress
established the Environmental Management Program for the UMRS. The EMP
consists of habitat rehabilitation/enhancement projects and a long-term resource
monitoring program. Under the EMP, the Corps has completed more than 40 habitat
16 Navigation requires elevated water levels during dry seasons, so sediment deposited in
shallow backwater and side channels is not compacted by exposure to air. This results in
the sediment being easily resuspended into the water column, where it reduces light
penetration essential for plant growth. Less vegetation reduces aquatic insects, fish,
waterfowl, and other animals.
17 Corps, Final Feasibility Report and PEIS, p. 100.
18 “Backwaters — A small, generally shallow body of water attached to the main channel,
with little or no current of its own; shallow, slow-moving water associated with a river but
outside the river’s main channel.” Ibid., 611.
19 Ibid., p. 106.
20 USGS, Status and Trends 1998, p. 8-8.
21 Ibid., p. 11-1.
22 Ibid., p. 12-4.
23 Ibid., p. 7-17.
24 Ibid., p. 12-5.
rehabilitation and enhancement projects, improving habitat on almost 67,000 acres.25
Another eight projects are under construction, and 16 are in the design stages.
Together, these additional projects will improve approximately 74,000 acres of
riverine and floodplain habitat.26 According to the Corps, current annual
environmental investments — $33.9 million, on average, in federal and state funds
— are inadequate to prevent continued degradation.27
Pointing to indicators of ecosystem decline, many groups are concerned about
the long-term effects of continued ecosystem alteration and argue for further
investments in ecosystem restoration that will support habitat diversity. Some cite
the loss of migratory birds in the areas of the Illinois River and the Middle and Lower
Mississippi River as examples of a possible outcome if investments are not made.28
Environmental groups want to reverse ecosystem decline and to increase the services
and benefits provided by a healthy ecosystem (e.g., recreational uses).
The Corps’ Proposal for Ecosystem Restoration
Corps’ Preferred Ecosystem Restoration Plan
The Corps proposes in its Final Feasibility Report and PEIS to reverse
ecosystem decline by making investments in restoration at the same time as investing
in navigation expansion. The report puts forth a preferred alternative for a dual-
purpose UMR-IWW navigation and UMRS ecosystem restoration plan — $2.4
billion in navigation improvements and $5.3 billion for ecosystem restoration over
50 years.29 Under the Corps’ recommended cost-share option, $4.25 billion in
measures under the ecosystem restoration plan, more than 80% of the total, would be
paid for 100% by the federal government as they would address impacts from the
existing 9-foot navigation project or for activities on federal lands. The remaining
$1.05 billion would be for floodplain restoration, backwater water level management,
backwater dredging/restoration, island and shoreline protection, measures to increase
topographic diversity of the floodplain, and some adaptive management activities;
the costs would be shared with local sponsors (65% federal and 35% non-federal;
$680 million federal and $370 million non-federal).
Unlike most of the Corps’ mitigation efforts for its other projects, the Corps’
preferred UMRS restoration plan is not focused on particular species. Instead it is
25 The Corps provides before and after pictures for one of its EMP projects in Corps, Final
Feasibility Report and PEIS, p.8.
26 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Rock Island District. 2004 Report to Congress: Upper
Mississippi River System Environmental Management Program.
27 Corps, Final Feasibility Report and PEIS, p. 104.
28 Upper Mississippi River Conservation Committee, Facing the Threat: An Ecosystem
Management Strategy for the Upper Mississippi River (1993).
29 The $200 million for mitigation of incremental environmental damage associated with
navigation improvements is included in the navigation plan, not the restoration plan.
aimed at restoring an array of aquatic and terrestrial species; because of this more
systemic approach, the preferred restoration plan combines multiple categories of
measures that together are expected to benefit the physical, chemical, and biological
health of the entire UMRS ecosystem. The Corps’ preferred ecosystem restoration
plan contains a total of 1,009 measures, including 248 for island building and
protection, 14 for fish passage, 40 for floodplain restoration, 21 for water level
management and dam operations, 208 for backwater restoration, 147 for side channel
restoration, 64 for wing dam/dike alternation, 235 for shoreline protection, and 32 for
topographic diversity. Because habitat is seen as a key component in restoring
species diversity and abundance,30 habitat is used as a gauge of what will be achieved
under each measure; the 1,009 measures are estimated to influence a total of 703,717
acres of habitat — many times the level of effort under the existing EMP.
According to the Corps, the needed environmental and social mitigation for
harm caused by the ecosystem restoration measures would be minimal. The Final
Feasibility Report and PEIS indicates that the selected restoration alternative would
have a net positive effect on ecosystem goods and services and no effect on
commercial navigation, water supply, or hydroelectric power. It stated that
navigation pool drawdowns could harm livestock watering and recreational boating,
but the effects would be minimal. Moreover, recreational boating may see an overall
benefit from restoration investments.
Integrated Navigation and Ecosystem Management. The Corps’
feasibility report recommends that the restoration measures be implemented within
the context of a new overall dual-purpose management framework. Today,
navigation is the sole purpose of the Corps UMR-IWW project, and ecosystem
restoration activities are conducted separately under the EMP. The Corps
recommends creating a structure for UMR-IWW/UMRS investments and operations
consisting of three basic elements:
!adding ecosystem restoration as a UMR-IWW project purpose,
creating a dual-purpose navigation and restoration authority,31
!approving a combined navigation and ecosystem restoration plan as
a framework,32 and
!adaptively implementing navigation investments and adaptively
managing ecosystem restoration investments.33
30 The USGS states that habitat is critical because “the diversity and abundance of species
found in the river depends on the diversity and abundance of habitat.” USGS, Status and
Trends 1998, p. 7-2. The plan places a particular emphasis on backwater habitat, which is
one of the primary types of habitat being lost.
31 Navigation is currently the only authorized purpose of the UMR-IWW.
32 Corps, Final Feasibility Report and PEIS, p. 491.
33 Part of the Corps definition of adaptive management is:
An approach to natural resources management that acknowledges the risk and
uncertainty of ecosystem restoration and allows for modification of restoration
measures to optimize performance. The process of implementing policy
decisions as scientifically driven management experiments that test predictions
According to the Corps, these three elements combined would allow the agency to
proceed with operational changes and near-term investments for navigation and
ecosystem restoration. Investments would be planned as part of a long-term
combined river management framework that minimizes risk by establishing a process
to incorporate acquired information into ongoing decision-making, known as
adaptive management, and they would be authorized in phases. According to the
Corps, integrated management of the environmental and navigation purposes will
improve operational efficiency, resulting in cost-savings and synergistic benefits.34
The Corps also argues that dual-purpose authorization would give it flexibility to use
operation and maintenance funds for ecosystem restoration and for navigation.35
A representative of the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association testified
before Congress that the “states enthusiastically supported the Corps’ decision to
restructure the study, consistent with [their] long-standing commitment to integrated
management of the river.”36 A number of agencies and non-governmental
organizations also support dual-purpose authorization. A barge industry group also
testified that it supports the ecosystem restoration plan, but believes that ecosystem
restoration should be implemented without adversely affecting the growth of
navigation.37 Moreover, entities such as the National Corn Growers Association and
the Midwest Area River Coalition 2000, do not support dual-purpose operation or
integration of operation and maintenance for navigation and ecosystem restoration,
citing that an existing backlog of navigation operation and maintenance (O&M)
activities and a lack of clarity regarding implementation criteria for integrating
Adaptive Management. The third component of the Corps’ proposed
management framework is adaptive management. Adaptive management is a
mechanism for dealing with the uncertainty of undertaking a large-scale, multi-year
effort to change a complex system. The adaptive management component of the
Corps’ plan, which is budgeted for $653 million, calls for a scientific panel, system39
level learning, and restoration plan bio-response monitoring. This approach is a
recognition that identifying and eliminating all uncertainties involved with restoration
before initiating a project is impossible. Furthermore, reducing uncertainties
consumes time and money, and may delay the initiation of restoration efforts, thus
leading to further ecosystem degradation.
and assumptions in management plans, using the resulting information to
improve the plans. (sic) (Ibid., p. 611)
34 Ibid., p. 512.
35 Ibid., p. 491.
36 Upper Mississippi River Basin Association June 24, 2004 testimony.
37 Christopher J. Brescia, Midwest Area River Coalition 2000 (MARC 2000), Testimony
before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and
Environment, June 24, 2004.
38 Corps, Final Feasibility Report and PEIS, p. 482 and 485.
39 Ibid., p. 512.
While the built-in flexibility of adaptive management is seen as an asset for
coping with uncertainty, adaptive management can be seen as risky because there is
the potential that it could be used to justify delays in implementing important
activities or to abandon previously set goals. Moreover, adaptive management is a
relatively recent management approach, thus contributing its own uncertainties.
Entities, such as the National Corn Growers Association has expressed concerns
about adaptive management, but hopes that the Corps will continue to work closely
with stakeholders. However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the basin
states and environmental organizations support the Corps’ proposal for adaptive
management for UMRS restoration.
The October 2004 NRC report found the adaptive approach to be vital to the
integrity of the Corps’ preferred plan for combined ecosystem restoration and
navigation investments. It states that the preferred plan:
... provides for a program of incremental implementation, an excellent framework
for comprehensive adaptive management. If the Corps is provided the resources
— and if it commits to the needed data collection, improved modeling
techniques, and evaluation — many of the flaws and omissions in this study can
be corrected in the course of implementation by the application of adaptive
At the same time, the NRC was critical of the Corps for not defining “a clear,
science-based framework for implementation, monitoring, and evaluation.”41
Preferred and Alternative Plans
In addition to describing the Corps’ preferred restoration plan and an integrated
management framework, the feasibility report also describes how the Corps arrived
at its recommendation. In selecting its preferred plan, the Corps analyzed five 50-
year options for ecosystem restoration.42 Each of these alternatives has a different
target, and, therefore, requires a different level of investment. The Corps describes
alternatives (A-E) by scope as follows:43
(A) Without Project Condition — No action, current environmental activities
(B) No Net Loss — Protect and maintain existing environmental diversity;
(C) First Increment of Restoration — Restore the habitats most directly affected
by the navigation project;
40 October 2004 NRC report, p. 8.
41 Ibid., 56.
42 The Corps focused its alternatives analysis on 50-year plans. Analyses of the alternative
plans (A, B, C, and E) do not include a discrete discussion of the first 15-year increment.
The Corps also examined multiple options for navigation improvements; these are not
discussed in this report.
43 Corps, Final Feasibility Report and PEIS, p. 183.
(D) Restoration to an Intermediate Level — Restore broad array of habitat types
using management practices and cost effective actions; and
(E) Restoration to a High Level — Restore to include most environmental
objectives that can be accomplished in the context of the navigation project.
As shown in Table 1, the number of measures to be undertaken under the
alternatives varies from no additional actions above the current EMP investments
(Alternative A) to 1,202 measures (Alternative E). Within some categories of
measures, the differentiation between alternatives is pronounced. The most dramatic
difference is the number of fish passage projects and floodplain restoration plans
(see Table 1). While there would be no fish passage at dam sites under Alternatives
A through C, Alternative D has 14 and Alternative E has 33. For floodplain
restoration specifically, Alternatives B and C have 2 and 5 projects, respectively,
while Alternative D has 40 projects and Alternative E has 80 projects.44
The level of investment under each restoration plan also affects the plans’
expected benefits — measured by the Corps in acres of influence45 — and cost. With
the exception of the no-action alternative, the number of acres influenced by the
projects increase from 148 thousand acres under Alternative B to 1,227 thousand
acres under Alternative E. Similarly, the associated costs increase from $1.7 to $8.4
billion as the number of projects increase from Alternative B to Alternative E (see
Table 1. Corps Analyzed Ecosystem Restoration Alternatives
Total No. of Ecosystem Measures06178081,010a1,202
Fish Passage Measures0001433
Floodplain Restoration Measures0254080
Total Acres of Influence 0 148 252 7041,227
Construction and Other First Costs$0$1,692$2,817$5,300a $8,417
Source: Corps, Final Feasibility Report and PEIS. a
These estimates include embankment lowering to promote connectivity and measures to decrease
water level fluctuations on the IWW. These are refinements to the D plan made by the Corps, that is
referred to in the final report as D*.
44 These projects correspond to the following acreage for alternatives B through D: (B)
45 The Corps describes “acres of influence” as “the area positively affected by the
restoration measure” (ibid., p. viii). It is estimated using data gained from already
implemented restoration measures, primarily EMP projects. The October 2004 NRC report
(p. 8) is critical of the acres of influence metric as poorly correlated with ecological
Plan Selection. The Corps evaluated its five ecosystem restoration
alternatives using a combination of qualitative analyses and estimated quantitative
outputs. Qualitative assessments included ecosystem diversity, ability to address
ecosystem objectives, maintenance and enhancement of ecosystem goods and46
services, acceptability, and adaptability. Quantitative measures included costs,
acres of influence, cost effectiveness, ecosystem completeness, and regional
economic development. From this evaluation, the Corps rated Alternatives D and E
as close in their overall ranking, but recommended Alternative D. Specifically,
“Alternative D was identified as the preferred alternative primarily because it is likely
to achieve a high degree of completeness and diversity in the most efficient47
manner.” While the basin states and environmental organizations generally support
the Corps preferred alternative (D*), a number of entities, including the U.S. EPA,
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and a number of basin states would prefer the
more extensive alternative E.
In its analysis, the Corps compared environmental benefits with the cost of
achieving those benefits. This comparison is called a cost effectiveness analysis. A
cost effectiveness analysis is used as an optimization technique to identify either the
least costly alternative for an established policy objective that defines the level of
benefits desired or to maximize what can be achieved for a given investment. In the
case of the Final Feasibility Report and PEIS, the Corps does not use cost
effectiveness analysis for either of these purposes. Instead, the alternatives analyzed
describe a range of benefits for a range of investments. That is, each of the five
analyzed alternatives generates a different quantity of benefits, measured as acres of
influence. Benefits were estimated by examining the acres of habitat affected
through restoration activities under the EMP. Comparing acres of influence and cost
helps the Corps to compare alternative plans; however, the usefulness of the
comparison is limited by the fact that different acres of habitat are of different
quality. Moreover, the Corps analysis is not particularly useful for comparing the
benefits and costs of the UMRS restoration effort with the benefits and costs of other48
large-scale restoration efforts or Corps flood control and navigation investments.
The Corps’ Proposal for a 15-Year First Increment
After analyzing the 50-year alternatives, the Corps recommends approval of a
50-year framework for ecosystem restoration investments, and authorization of a first
15-year increment at $1.46 billion.49 Following the Corps’ preferred cost-sharing
option, most projects would be a 100% federal responsibility, and some would be
cost-shared with non-federal sponsors. Overall, responsibility for construction costs
and other first costs (e.g., land acquisition) would be approximately 91% federal
46 Ibid., p. 232.
47 Ibid., pp. 469 and x.
48 Corps navigation projects are evaluated using benefit-cost analyses, in which benefits are
monetized, thus facilitating comparison across projects. This analysis is not used for
restoration projects because computing the economic value of restoration benefits is
49 Corps, Final Feasibility Report and PEIS, p. 515.
($1.33 billion) and 9% non-federal ($0.13).50 In addition to the first-cost, the Corps
estimates that operating and maintaining the ecosystem restoration components will
cost $76 million.51 The Corps would likely be responsible for operation and
maintenance (O&M) costs associated with fish passage facilities, water level
management, and dike and wing dam alterations. These costs are estimated at $12
million. The remaining $64 million would be borne primarily by the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service and the states. The cost share allocation is currently unclear.
However, O&M costs associated with floodplain restoration projects would largely
be paid by the states and non-profit entities and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
would likely assume responsibility for operating and maintaining completed habitat
While the feasibility report does not include an analysis of alternative 15-year
increments, the Corps states that measures were selected to provide (1) the best return
on investment, (2) the best gains in habitat and species diversity, and (3) additional
knowledge that will facilitate adaptive implementation of the 50-year plan. The
Corps also selected measures for which there would be sufficient time to plan,
design, construct, and monitor within the 15-year time frame.53 However, some
environmental organizations contend that a 15-year time frame is insufficient to
achieve tangible results and that a longer-term authorization is needed. The U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service, for example, states that there will be a need for ecosystem
restoration authority for as long as the navigation system is operated and
maintained.54 On the other hand, the state of Wisconsin supports the 15-year time
frame on the basis that it will likely allow time to document the need for Alternative
E. As it stands, the Corps’ proposed 15-year increment includes 225 measures, under
three main activities:55
!Fish Passage and Dam Operations. Fish migration is largely
impeded by the locks and dams on the navigation system. To help
fish stocks move more freely through the system, the 15-year plan
would include about 30% of the fish passage and dam operations
measures recommended in the 50-year plan. Specifically, the 15-
year plan would include fish passage construction at 4 dams and fish
passage planning and design at 2 dams ($209 million), and new dam
operating procedures (and related land acquisition or easements) at
!Programmatic Restoration Authority. Programmatic authority to
improve a wide array of habitat types through island building,
floodplain restoration, water level management, backwater
50 Ibid., p. 515.
51 Ibid., p. 515.
52 Ibid., p. 515.
53 Ibid., pp. 511-512.
54 Ibid., p. 477.
55 Ibid., pp. 512-513.
restoration, side channel restoration, wing dam/dike alternation and
shoreline protection. ($935 million total, not to exceed $25
million/measure — 100% federal).
!Land Acquisition. The 50-year plan includes the acquisition of
approximately 105,000 acres of floodplain and other riparian habitat.
The 15-year plan would work to restore about 40% of that acreage.
Specifically, it would include land acquisition of 35,000 acres from
willing sellers, for floodplain connectivity and wetland and riparian
habitat protection and restoration. ($277 million total — 65%
Debate Over the Corps’
Ecosystem Restoration Proposal
If Congress decides to authorize an ecosystem restoration plan for the UMRS,
it will face a number of policy decisions. The more contentious aspects of such
authorization may deal with the plan’s magnitude and cost, cost-share, scope, and
relationship to authorization of navigation investments and navigation operations.
These decisions are briefly described below.
Restoration Magnitude and Cost. The Corps’ analysis of ecosystem
restoration includes five alternative plans of which restoration goals can be achieved
at different levels of investment. Policymakers are now confronted with deciding on
the magnitude of restoration efforts, if any, to be undertaken. Should the restoration
effort maintain existing ecosystem conditions (i.e., no net loss), or should it restore
ecosystem conditions without trying to attain some pre-existing situation? If
restoration is the objective, how much of the earlier ecosystem function should be
restored? Answers to these questions are based on value judgements and depend on
balancing what the federal government and the basin states are willing to invest in
restoration with the desire for a restored ecosystem.
As previously described, the Corps’ $5.3 billion restoration plan would maintain
and restore ecosystem function. One factor that some restoration supporters argue
should be considered in deciding on federal investments is the relative spending on
restoration and navigation. Implementing the Corps’ 50-year restoration plan would
result in an average annual cost (including both initial investments and O&M) of
almost $140 million; this compares to the $185 million, on average, annually spent
on the O&M and rehabilitation of the existing navigation system, and the additional
$60 million annually for implementing the Corps’ 50-year navigation plan.56
Cost-Share. Another investment consideration is the distribution of financial
responsibility among federal and non-federal sponsors. The UMRS restoration plan
56 These estimates were updated by Congressional Research Service based on data provided
in the U.S. Dept. of the Interior, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Draft Supplement to the
April 2002 Draft Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act Report for the Upper Mississippi and
Illinois River System Navigation Feasibility Study (April 2004).
raises the question of who is responsible for paying for restoration of ecosystems
partially damaged by existing federal projects. Since WRDA 1986, non-federal
sponsors have been responsible for a greater portion of Corps project costs; the cost-
share formulas evolved out of a debate over having beneficiaries (i.e., non-federal
sponsors) pay for the benefits received by footing a portion of project costs.57 The
established cost-share for Corps’ ecosystem restoration projects is 65% federal / 35%
non-federal; however, the Corps recommends for the UMRS a cost-share
arrangement that increases federal responsibility because of the role of the federal
UMR-IWW navigation system in earlier degradation, the extensive federal land
holdings, and the multi-state nature of the effort. The recommended arrangement,
which is generally supported by the states, agencies, and environmental and
navigation organizations, would result in the $5.3 billion of restoration costs being
split 91% federal / 9% non-federal. This cost share could be viewed as reflecting
federal responsibility for mitigating damage caused by existing federal projects.
Other federal agencies, basin states, environmental organizations, and the NRC
support the Corps’ proposed cost-share; observers outside the basin and others less
likely to be direct beneficiaries of investments may argue that non-federal
beneficiaries should pay a higher portion of the cost.
Although the Corps provides a justification for the dominance of federal
financing, some observers may dispute this dominance for various reasons. One
reason stems from part of the perceived motivation for adopting cost-share
arrangements in WRDA 1986: “The cost-share formulas can’t guarantee that every
new project will be worth the price. But they will force state and local interests to
weigh the costs against the benefits more conscientiously.”58 In this view, one
purpose of cost-sharing is to put Corps projects to a “market test,” whereby state and
local beneficiaries confirm the value of a project by agreeing to share in the cost;59
another benefit is that nonfederal sponsors may have a greater sense of project
ownership. In contrast, the absence of local financial involvement can be seen as
particularly problematic for a restoration project which lacks a benefit-cost analysis
that identifies the level of investments at which the costs outweigh the benefits of
longer term ecosystem services supporting human/economic endeavors and other
societal values. On the other hand, one could argue that the willingness of a local
partner to pay for ecosystem restoration does not provide an accurate litmus test
given the ecosystem’s national significance. Some environmental organizations are
concerned with how the costs-share arrangement will effect the Corps’ restoration
priorities; they fear that requiring the non-federal sponsors to contribute 35% for
some activities will discourage the Corps from aggressively pursuing these activities,
particularly floodplain management activities.
57 M. Reuss, Reshaping National Water Politics: The Emergence of the Water Resources
Development Act of 1986 (Alexandria, VA: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Institute for
Water Resources, Oct. 1991).
58 Ibid., p. 199.
59 The October 2004 NRC report (p. 52) was critical of using a market test for UMRS
investments because of the role of the UMR-IWW navigation project in ecosystem decline
and because the benefits of restoration investment may not be local.
A second objection to the dominance of federal financing for UMRS restoration
may be that the available federal funding for UMRS restoration could be a constraint
on restoration progress. The federal government, and the Corps in particular, is or
may become involved in other large-scale, multi-billion dollar restoration efforts,
such as the Florida Everglades restoration and the Coastal Louisiana wetlands
restoration. This growing financial commitment to restoration investments is
happening within the context of large projected federal budget deficits and a backlog
of Corps construction projects currently estimated at more than $40 billion.
Restoration Scope. The Corps constrained the restoration plan by limiting
its geographic scope. The Corps’ plan targets restoration for the UMRS, that is, the
UMR-IWW and its floodplain. As a result, reducing stressors that are beyond the
floodplain in the larger watershed are not included among the recommended
measures; instead the plan recommends measures to address the symptoms of these
stressors. That is, the Corps’ restoration plan does not include changes to land use
practices related to increased sedimentation and degradation of other water quality
parameters, flood damage reduction practices on a large-scale, or significant
alterations to navigation infrastructure. For example, the Corps’ plan recommends
backwater dredging measures; dredging addresses the symptom of elevated
sedimentation, but not the land use practices that can cause it, because these practices
are considered outside the scope of the navigation study and navigation project.
Substantial restoration benefits are not in the Corps’ plan because they would
interfere with navigation.
The Corps also limits the recommended restoration measures to the scope of the
navigation project and study; that is, the measures are to address the cumulative
impacts of operations of federal projects and other ecosystem stressors, without
harming navigation. For example, dramatic water level changes that could produce
substantial restoration benefits are not in the Corps’ plan because they would
interfere with navigation.
The NRC recommended in its December 2003 report that the Corps should, to
the extent feasible, use a more holistic approach that includes factors such as water
quality, flood damage reduction, and sediment transport. The Corps maintains that
a more comprehensive, watershed-type approach is beyond the scope of the
authorization under which the agency is conducting the feasibility study.60 According
to the Corps, another reason for the current restoration scope is that the five basin
states support the concept that the study should remain focused on navigation and an61
environmentally sustainable navigation system. Because only some of the stressors
causing ecosystem degradation are managed under the Corps plan, not all of the
ecosystem’s natural river processes are restored, resulting in the need for regular
human intervention to obtain some restoration benefits. Some environmental
organizations, such as American Rivers, would prefer to have ecosystem restoration
authorized for the entire watershed; activities under the Corps proposal would be
limited in scope to the UMRS. The October 2004 NRC report showed less concern
about the geographic scope of the restoration effort, and was more interested in
60 Corps, Final Feasibility Report and PEIS, p. QM-5.
61 Ibid., p. QM-5.
restoring natural river processes that shape floodplains.62 Consequently, the NRC
supports not only dual purpose authorization, but also multi-purpose authorization
that includes flood management.63 Would a more comprehensive watershed
approach accomplish restoration at less cost in the long-run, and if so, would this
reduced cost be offset by potential constraints on navigation and flood damage
Linked Authorization. As described above, the Corps limited the scope of
its ecosystem restoration proposal to the navigation channel and surrounding
floodplain. The Corps selected this scope because restoration plans were developed
in the context of the navigation study; that is, the study has restoration as half of a
dual-purpose plan. The environmental community uniformly support the need for
restoration investments and dual-purpose management. The community, however,
is not united on how to achieve this. Some environmental groups,64 such as the
Mississippi River Basin Alliance and Audubon, support authorizing a package of
restoration and navigation investments within a dual purpose management context.
Other environmental groups would like to see additional ecosystem restoration
authorized through the existing structure of the EMP, without authorizing large-scale
investments in navigation.
Legislation on the Corps proposal could link navigation funding to ecosystem
restoration. Alternatively, legislation could authorize ecosystem restoration without65
authorizing the navigation project, or vice versa. Should authorization or funding
for ecosystem restoration and navigation be linked? If so, how closely should they
be joined? These questions apply beyond the Corps’ proposal for the UMR-
IWW/UMRS to other Corps projects and other federal restoration efforts. As the first
combined large-scale navigation and ecosystem restoration project, it could set a
precedent for future proposals. What is the threshold for adding ecosystem
restoration to other federal projects? Should all large-scale water projects (e.g.,
locks, dams, and levees) have an ecosystem restoration component? In addition to
their ecosystems, rivers are resources that may be used for multiple purposes such as
hydro power, navigation, flood control, recreation, and water supply. While many
62 This interest in natural river processes and floodplain connectivity is linked to another
criticism made by the NRC; the October 2004 NRC report (p. 8) states that
... proposed restoration measures represent an impressive range and number of
candidate actions. The assembly of those measures into restoration alternatives,
however, is not adequately grounded in principles and theories of large river
floodplain science and restoration.
63 Ibid., pp. 2-3. The October 2004 NRC report also questions if the Corps’ assumption that
the navigation season and 9-foot channel depth will remain unchanged is appropriate, and
if this assumption implicitly gives navigation a superior position to other river uses (ibid.,
64 These organizations do not necessarily support the Corps entire navigation proposal.
They tend to oppose lock expansion but support small-scale measures.
65 For more information on current legislation, see CRS Report RL32574, Upper Mississippi
River-Illinois Waterway Investments: Proposed Authorization Legislation in the 108th
Congress, by Nicole T. Carter and Kyna Powers.
facilities, such as dams,66 are managed for multiple purposes, agencies have been
directed to construct and operate a number of federal projects for single purposes.
Should all federal projects be managed for multiple purposes? Linking ecosystem
restoration and navigation, as with any multi-purpose designation, is ultimately a
policy question of how Congress wants federal agencies to manage public resources.
The Army Corps of Engineers has released a final feasibility report and Chief’s
Report recommending that Congress authorize a 15-year, initial increment of
ecosystem restoration measures as part of a combined 50-year investment and
management framework for UMR-IWW navigation and UMRS restoration.
Authorization of UMRS restoration poses policy questions for decision makers, such
as: What level of restoration should be authorized, and at what cost? What should
be the federal responsibility for UMRS restoration investments? Congress is being
asked to answer these questions in the context of interest in and debate over
navigation expansion on the UMR-IWW. The answers that Congress may provide
are likely to be viewed as precedent setting for other large-scale restoration efforts,
especially efforts for ecosystem restoration of other inland waterways and rivers.
An additional challenge is the uncertainty of what would be achieved through
UMRS restoration investments. This uncertainty comes from multiple sources:
ecosystem restoration is a young science; the Corps’ plan only addresses some of the
stressors causing ecosystem decline; and restoration implementation depends on
available appropriations. The issue for policymakers is further complicated because
analytic tools to assist in decision-making for restoration projects are less robust than
for other Corps projects that use benefit-cost analysis. The Corps has recognized
these challenges in its feasibility report. In response, the agency recommends an
adaptive management and implementation strategy for restoration; however, some
observers see adaptive management as contributing another element of uncertainty
and risk. Congress may weigh these risks when considering the level of ecosystem
restoration and federal investment for the UMRS, if it wants to make these
restoration investments in conjunction with navigation expansion, or separately, and
what role it wants during implementation and funding.
66 Most federal dams are managed for multiple purposes. Furthermore, licenses issued by
the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for non-federal dams often contain provisions
aimed at retaining or enhancing the river’s recreational, ecological, or tribal benefits.
Related CRS Documents
CRS Congressional Distribution Memorandum, UMR-IWW Project History, by Kyna
Powers, May 3, 2004.
CRS Issue Brief IB10133, Water Resources Development Act: Army Corps of
Engineers Authorization Issues in the 109th Congress, coordinated by Nicole T.
CRS Report RL30928, Army Corps of Engineers Civil Works Reform Issues in the
CRS Report RL32401, Agriculture as a Source of Barge Demand on the Upper
Mississippi and Illinois Rivers: Background and Issues, by Randy Schnepf.
CRS Report RL32470 , Upper Mississippi River — Illinois Waterway Navigation
Expansion: An Agricultural Transportation and Environmental Decision,
coordinated by Randy Schnepf.
CRS Report RL32574, Upper Mississippi River-Illinois Waterway Investments:
Proposed Authorization Legislation in the 108th Congress, by Nicole T. Carter
and Kyna Powers.
CRS Report RL32915, Upper Mississippi River-Illinois Waterway Investments:
Legislation in the 109th Congress, by Nicole T. Carter and Kyna Powers.