It’s been a busy year for the Asset Management team looking at the Civil Works infrastructure managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). There is little doubt that the assets USACE owns and operates contribute greatly to the nation’s economy, security, and quality of life.
But how do you characterize their condition and their value?
A new report, due to be completed early next year, will begin to answer those questions, said Elliot Ng, special assistant to the deputy commanding general for Civil and Emergency Operations for Asset Management.
The report, tentatively entitled, “2011 State of USACE Civil Works Infrastructure: Condition and Performance,” will serve as a wake-up call to the importance of investment in the nation’s water infrastructure, Ng said.
USACE operates, maintains, and manages almost $240 billion worth, or about one-third, of the nation’s water resource assets. USACE assets range in size and complexity, span large geographic areas, and serve various functions, including river and coastal navigation, hydropower generation, flood risk management, and outdoor recreation. These structures range from simple boat launches to massive dams, extensive levee systems, and locks as long as four football fields – all of which are vital to the nation’s economy, safety, and security.
Despite the importance of USACE infrastructure to the nation’s well-being, limited resources are available for maintaining these assets, many of which are reaching or exceeding their original design lives. Limited resources and increasing age have contributed to a decline in the overall value of USACE capital stock, which has decreased from a value of $250 billion in 1980 to $165 billion in 2011. This decline in value manifests in decreased infrastructure reliability. For example, as the infrastructure ages, both unplanned and scheduled outages at the nation’s inland waterway locks and dams and hydropower facilities have increased, driving down the reliability of the services these public works provide.
“The report will lay out the existing condition of our infrastructure and the risk we take as a nation by continuing current resource investment trends; show the value the infrastructure provides to our economy and security; and discuss the significant decisions that face us all with respect to recapitalization and long-term operation and maintenance management of the nation’s water infrastructure,” Ng said.
“We’ve collected information throughout the Corps to come up with the state of our Civil Works infrastructure. Now we’re able to better communicate how that infrastructure operates, its current condition, the consequences of its failing to operate properly, and why it is important to maintain it.”
The public expects these assets to be managed in an accountable and responsible manner, Ng said, which means that as these infrastructure assets reach the end of their economic lives, USACE needs to make decisions on whether to rehabilitate, repair, replace, recapitalize, repurpose, or dispose of the structures.
The vast majority of Civil Works infrastructure, most of which was constructed in the early to mid-20th century, has aged past the design lives originally envisioned. As the infrastructure ages, it becomes time to re-examine how each project serves the USACE mission. Some projects may not be fulfilling their original purposes, or the demands for which the projects were originally developed have dissipated, evolved into new needs, or no longer exist.