The Water Resources Development Act of 1986 made numerous changes in the way potential Corps of Engineers’ projects are developed. It established a framework for partnerships between the federal government, represented by the Corps, and non-federal interests, represented by local project sponsors. The Act gives sponsors a key role in project planning and design, balanced by requirements for greater non-federal financial shares in the costs of studies and projects.
Who Can Be A Sponsor?
A sponsor can be a state, tribe, county, city, town, or any other political subpart of a state or group of states. A sponsor can also be an interstate agency or port authority that:
…is established under a compact entered into between two or more States with consent of Congress under Section 15 of Article 1 of the Constitution, and has the legal and financial authority and capability to provide the cash and real property requirements needed for a project.
Examples of sponsors are the State of Kentucky the Metropolitan Sewer District, and the Miami Conservancy District. Section 221 of the 1970
Flood Control Act defines a local sponsor for a Corps’ water resources project as a non-federal interest that is "...a legally constituted public body with full authority and capability to perform the terms of its agreements and to pay damages, if necessary, in the event of failure to perform."
First Steps Toward a Project
All Corps’ projects originate with a request from a local community, public entity, or tribal government for assistance. This initial request is the beginning of a process that may eventually result in construction of a water resources project. The first steps toward a project are as follows:
Project Partnership Kit
- A local community, or some element of a community, perceives or experiences a water resources problem that is beyond their ability to solve. Examples of such problems include major floods, bank erosion, and hazardous or inadequate navigation conditions in a harbor or waterway.
- A community representative, who often may be a member of the possible sponsoring agency, meet with their local Corps District staff to discuss avenues of assistance, including federal programs. Before the Corps of Engineers becomes involved in providing assistance, two types of congressional authority are required: study authority and budget authority. A study authority approves the conduct of an investigation into the identified problems. Once a study authority is available, a budget authority to spend federal funds for the study can be provided in an annual Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act. In certain cases, the Corps can provide technical assistance or relief through some smaller studies or projects without further congressional authorization.
- If there is no available authority for the Corps to investigate the problem, the community representatives may contact their congressional delegation to request a study authority.
- A member of Congress may then ask the Senate or House of Representatives Public Works Committee for an authority for the Corps to study the problem. If previous investigations and reports concerning water resource problems exist for the area, the Committee may adopt a study resolution to provide the necessary authority to take another look at the area and review the earlier study. If no previous studies exist, legislation containing a study authorization is usually required. The local Corps of Engineers District staff has examples of previous study authorities and may, upon request, help draft language that will provide the desired authority.
- Once a congressional study authority is available, the study will be assigned to the local Corps district. The district may then, through the normal federal budget process, ask for money to conduct the first phase of the study, called the reconnaissance phase.
- When federal funds to conduct the reconnaissance study are included in an annual Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act, the local Corps district may begin studying the community's water resource problems.
U.S. Congressional Websites
U.S. Senate Websites