Sunday, August 20, 2006

Restructuring the Federal/State Relationship in Flood Control

The more you learn about flood control, and water projects more generally, the weirder things get. It's far from being the worst problem -- that's probably to be found in the halls of Congress -- but regulatory fragmentation is at least one of the major challenges.

Often, water planning activities involve not only multiple federal agencies, but also state and local governments. As Oliver Houck bluntly put it, “The first consequence is that flood control has no head . . . . Whatever the merits of this diffusion of authority, it does not produce coherent flood control.” One useful model may be what has been called “modularity” -- a concept which involves provisional and functional rearrangement of units in terms of alternative configurations of tools, structures and relationships.

The Corps has traditional viewed itself in insular terms. To be successful in the future, it must re-conceptualize itself as a pivotal part of a modular organizational structure, bringing together partnerships with other federal agencies, state and local government, and private stakeholders.

Some definite progress is being made on the state side in Louisiana. Under a proposed change in the Louisiana state constitution, which will be considered by voters in a September statewide election, establishes the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority - East and the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority - West, abolishing the existing levee boards in the region while maintaining the existing levee taxing districts. The Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, established in the November 2005 special session to oversee local levee boards and set state levee priorities, will serve act as the local sponsor for flood control and coastal restoration projects in the new authorities.

Given the previously fragmented nature of Louisiana flood control efforts, this would be a major step forward. But it is important to consider not only the state structure, but its interrelationships with various federal agencies and policymakers. Much remains to be done in terms of reconceptualizing these relationships. The Corps is a venerable institution, but it needs to change how it connects with other decisionmakers.

Oh, in case you're wondering, "Camping with the Corps of Engineers" isn't a reference to FEMA trailors. It's a Corps publication. Here's how the Corps plugs the book:
The Army Corps of Engineers have provided some of the best and scenic RV and motor home camping facilities anywhere in the United States. This Army Corps of Engineers Camping facilities directory makes it possible to quickly locate those facilities that are on the route of your next RV trip.
The ad then points out that the book "allows you to camp near scenic lakes and streams." Assuming, of course, that they're still scenic when the Corps gets done with them, and that they don't overflow and drown you. Enjoy!


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