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The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Hydrologic Engineering Center (CEIWR-HEC) was formed in 1964 to institutionalize the technical expertise that subsequently became known as hydrologic engineering. The cadre of engineers that had come to USACE following World War II were approaching retirement age, and there was concern that their expertise that had evolved from the on-going unprecedented USACE water resources development activities would dissipate and be difficult to restore. CEIWR-HEC was established at the USACE Sacramento District within the Engineering Division. Principals involved included: Albert Cochran, HQUSACE Hydrology and Hydraulics Chief, who formed and sold the idea of CEIWR-HEC; Emilio Gomez, Sacramento District Chief of Engineering Division; and Roy Beard, then the District Reservoir Control Chief and subsequently CEIWR-HEC founding Director. CEIWR-HEC immediately set to work organizing and presenting training courses, the first of such kind in USACE, and initiating development of what later became to be the well-known family of CEIWR-HEC software. Early software packages were HEC-1 (watershed hydrology), HEC-2 (river hydraulics), HEC-3 (reservoir analysis for conservation), and HEC-4 (stochastic streamflow generation program). Within ten years after establishment, the technical field of planning analysis, the application of analytical methods to planning activities closely associated with hydrologic engineering, was added to the CEIWR-HEC mission. By that time, the permanent staff had risen to about thirty engineers and computer specialists. CEIWR-HEC permanent staff today is approximately thirty-five.

In its history, CEIWR-HEC went through a series of organizational reporting realignments, but has for the most part, maintained generally the same scope of activities, staff, support to the field ethic, and output products. CEIWR-HEC moved from under the Sacramento District Engineering Chief to reporting to the District Commander, and by the early 1970s, had successively been realigned to report to the South Pacific Division Commander, then to HQUSACE Director of Civil Works, and then finally became an organization within the Water Resources Support Center (WRSC). CEIWR-HEC remained assigned to WRSC for about twenty years until WRSC was dissolved in 2000 to be replaced by the Institute for Water Resources (CEIWR), then a sister organization to CEIWR-HEC within WRSC. Today, CEIWR-HEC is an organization within CEIWR. CEIWR reports to the Deputy Director of Civil works and is classified as a Civil Works Support Office.

Over the years, CEIWR-HEC developed and published a number of technical methods documents addressing the full range of hydrologic engineering and planning analysis technologies. The format and content for technical short courses evolved early on and continues to be a mainstay of the CEIWR-HEC program. The family of software has grown to over twenty major pieces of software that are supported by a library of utility software, recent additions including GIS support. CEIWR-HEC is perhaps best known for these nationally and internationally renowned hydrologic engineering programs.

CEIWR-HEC is organized into an Executive Office and three divisions: Hydrology and Hydraulics Technology; Water Resource Systems; and Water Management Systems. Staffs in all divisions undertake training, methods documentation, research and development, technical assistance and special projects. Notable recent achievements include: development of the next generation of successor CEIWR-HEC software (HEC-RAS, HEC-HMS, HEC-FDA, and HEC-ResSim); providing leadership in establishing risk analysis as the foundation technology for flood damage reduction planning and analysis; and development and deployment of the Corps Water Management System (CWMS), the real-time forecasting and decision-support system that is used 24/7 in execution of the USACE Civil Works water resource water control management mission.