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U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Environmental Work

The nation's environmental engineers

It’s no exaggeration: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE) environmental work in the United States, and in support of military installations and other international customers around the world, comprises one of the nation’s largest federal environmental missions.

Tamiami Trail Modifications

A major milestone for the Tamiami Trail Modifications Project was reached July 13, 2012, as the first concrete pour on the bridge deck was completed. The purpose of the project is to improve water flow within the Everglades National Park. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photo by Jenn Miller

USACE’s Environmental Community of Practice (CoP) includes professionals specializing in virtually every conceivable aspect of environmental work: restoration and resource management; regulatory compliance; conservation; pollution prevention, cleanup, and response; contracting; sustainable development and construction; and much more.

In its Civil Works mission, as steward of nearly 12 million acres of public lands and waters in 43 states, USACE has taken a balanced view toward the development of the nation’s water resources.

It develops and implements sustainable solutions by applying its Environmental Operating Principles, first devised in 2002 and refreshed in 2012, to encompass the full range of its environmental activities.

While varied, USACE’s environmental work breaks down into four main categories:

  • Ecosystem restoration. USACE leads several of the largest environmental restoration projects in the world, including the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, the Louisiana Coastal Area, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, and the Missouri River Recovery Plan. For smaller-scale restoration projects, USACE has helped to pioneer the systemwide “watershed” approach to problem-solving and management.
  • Waterway regulation and resource management. USACE’s Regulatory Program works to ensure no net loss of the nation’s wetlands, while issuing about 90,000 development permits annually. On the 12 million acres under its own stewardship, USACE uses Environmental Management Systems to reduce waste and achieve energy efficiency.
  • Cleanup and protection. USACE engineers design, manage, and carry out numerous cleanup and protection activities at federal sites contaminated with hazardous, toxic, or radioactive waste; over the years, it has developed significant expertise in the cleanup of discarded military munitions, unexploded ordnance, and chemical warfare materiel. USACE’s cleanup expertise supports the Department of Defense’s (DoD) 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) initiative, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Superfund, Brownfields, and Urban Waters programs.
  • Building sustainable facilities. With its design criteria, waste-diversion techniques, and applied research and expertise from its Center for the Advancement of Sustainability Innovations, USACE designs sustainable communities and facilities for the DoD.

In fiscal year 2011, USACE executed about $1.9 billion in environmental cleanup and compliance work and program management, and in FY 2012, the figure stood at $1.6 billion.


Staying Customer Focused

USACE’s versatility in performing these varied activities at its own sites, and for the DoD and other customers, is enabled partly because of the way the Environmental CoP has evolved – and continues to evolve. No longer contained within the bureaucratic label of the Environmental Division, the CoP is a “matrix” organization; experts within dozens of specialties such as coastal zone management, green procurement, radioactive waste, environmental legislation, pollution prevention, and hydrology are assigned to projects as their talents are needed, often integrating people from Civil Works, military, and reimbursable programs. The scope, size, and structure of the Environmental CoP are constantly changing according to what USACE and its customers need.

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Craig Collins is a veteran freelance writer and a regular Faircount Media Group contributor who...