US Army Corps of Engineers
Hydrologic Engineering Center

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Sustainable Rivers


SRP focuses on environmental opportunities at water infrastructure related to reservoirs.

Authorized purposes of reservoirs owned and operated by the Corps of Engineers are given in legislation associated with project construction, in legislation passed after construction that include language about specific existing projects, and in legislation that apply generally to all Corps reservoirs such as the Endangered Species Act (Public Law 93-205) and the Clean Water Act (Public Law 92-500).

Most purposes of Corps reservoirs fall into eight general categories: flood risk management, recreation, fish and wildlife, municipal and industrial water supply, water quality, irrigation, hydropower, and navigation.

A national survey completed in 2013 showed that most reservoirs with federally authorized flood storage have an authorized purpose related to the environment. Of the 356 Corps reservoirs surveyed, 201 were reported as authorized for fish and wildlife (56%), an additional 35 (+10%) were authorized for water quality (and not fish and wildlife), and an additional 73 (+21%) were authorized for recreation (and not water quality or fish and wildlife). In summary, 87% or 309 of the 356 Corps reservoirs surveyed had an authorized purpose related to the environment.

Importantly, the Sustainable Rivers Program works within the context of all existing project purposes when advancing and implementing actions to enhance the environmental benefits provided by Corps water infrastructure.

Title 33 section 2316a of the U.S. Code (33USC§2316) states that “the Secretary [of the Army] shall include environmental protection as one of the primary missions of the Corps of Engineers in planning, designing, constructing, operating, and maintaining water resources projects.”

Additionally, it is Corps policy (Engineer Regulation 1130-2-540) to “…apply principles of good environmental stewardship to the natural and cultural resources occurring on Corps administered and/or managed lands and waters. For the Corps the term “steward” shall mean manager of those public resources. Environmental stewardship shall include both passive and proactive management to sustain healthy ecosystems and biodiversity, and conserve natural resources, such that Corps lands and waters are left in a condition equal to or better than their condition when acquired, and such that those natural and cultural resources are available to serve the needs of present and future generations.”

Section 216 of the Rivers and Harbors Flood Control Act of 1970 (Public Law 91-611) is also pertinent. That legislation states that “The Secretary of the Army, acting through the Chief of Engineers, is authorized to review the operation of projects the construction of which has been completed and which were constructed by the Corps of Engineers in the interest of navigation, flood control, water supply, and related purposes, when found advisable due the significantly changed physical or economic conditions, and to report thereon to Congress with recommendations on the advisability of modifying the structures or their operation, and for improving the quality of the environment in the overall public interest.”

This legal authorization to review existing reservoirs, potential modifications to structures or operations, and environmental improvements is very much aligned with the Sustainable Rivers Program goal of generating more environmental benefits from already built public water infrastructure.

Partnership Agreements

The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have signed national and regional Memorandums of Understanding to mutually seek opportunities relating to the conservation, understanding, management and sustainable use of the Nation’s water and related land resources. Both organizations will benefit from each other’s expertise in natural resources management and extensive networks of staff and partners. Memorandums are available via the Publications link.