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Program Description

Studies under the General Investigations Program are authorized by Congress. They address flood risk management, navigation, water supply, recreation, and other needs and opportunities. Through these studies, alternative plans are compared, and favorable and unfavorable characteristics are determined. Costs and benefits of alternative plans are identified, and a specific course of action is recommended to Congress. Congress may then authorize and fund a project for construction. There is no designated limit to the scale, extent, or cost of development that can be proposed as a result of a General Investigations study.

When local interests believe a need exists for construction or improvement of a water resource project, they contact their Congressional representative. The senator or representative then requests the appropriate congressional committee to direct the Corps to study the problem and furnish a recommendation.

For small-scale projects, Congress has also provided the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with the discretion to plan, design, and construct certain routine flood control, navigation, and water resource improvements without specific congressional authorization. These small project authorities are discussed in the Continuing Authorities section of this pamphlet. Only a phone call is necessary for us to advise you on whether a potential project or study would fall into the General Investigations or the continuing authorities category.

General Investigations Program

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  1. The project must be in the federal interest. The Corps usually cannot study a project unless flood control or navigation is the major need. If that requirement is satisfied, other project purposes may also be considered.
  2. The project must be economically justified. Project benefits must exceed project costs.
  3. The project must be environmentally acceptable. The preservation of environmental resources is an integral part of the planning process for any project. For all projects, an assessment of the potential environmental effects is prepared and coordinated with the concerned public and Federal, state, and local agencies. For projects with significant effects, or where controversial matters are involved, a more detailed Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) may be required.
  4. There must be a local sponsor willing to provide the types and levels of assistance required for each different project. Usually that assistance will include the following:
      • Providing certain project requirements (i.e., lands; easements; rights-of-way; relocations; and disposal areas necessary for the construction, operation, and maintenance of the project.
      • Sharing costs for project studies and construction, depending on the project purpose.
      • Operating and maintaining the project after completion.

When the Corps receives congressional authority to study a flooding, navigation, or other water resource problem; a two-phase planning process is followed. In the first phase, a reconnaissance study is conducted to determine if there is a good chance for project justification. During this phase, a wide range of possible solutions are considered. We consult with the local citizens to ensure that their concerns and needs are considered, as well as to inform them of their responsibilities. Other federal and non-federal agencies concerned with any phase of resource planning or development are also consulted.

If the reconnaissance phase shows that a potential project meets the general criteria for development described above, we will proceed with a more detailed phase of study known as the feasibility phase. Under the Water Resources Development Act of 1986 (Public Law 99-662), prior to proceeding beyond the reconnaissance phase, local interests must agree to provide 50 percent of feasibility study costs.

The following sequence of steps will generally be followed:

  • Local officials initiate actions on perceived water resource problems or opportunities. A Corps representative is contacted about available Federal programs. Study sponsors can be states, counties, cities, and other governmental entities (i.e., port, flood risk management, or drainage districts) empowered under state law to provide the required local cooperation.
  • For studies requiring congressional authorization, local officials will be referred to their congressional delegation. The Corps does not seek authorization for new studies.
  • A member of Congress requests study authorization through the Senate or House Public Works Committee.
  • If a report was previously prepared by the Corps to address the problem, the Committee may adopt a resolution directing a review of the report to determine if changes should be made in light of current conditions.
  • If no report exists, legislation directing the Corps to study the problem is normally required.
  • Funds to complete a reconnaissance-level study are included in the President's budget.
  • Appropriation of funds for the reconnaissance study is normally provided in the annual Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act.
  • The initial planning study, or reconnaissance phase, is conducted at 100-percent federal expense. The reconnaissance phase normally requires from 15 to 18 months; including completion of the study, preparation of a technical report and feasibility cost-sharing agreement, and review by higher-level Corps offices.
  • Goals of the reconnaissance phase are to:
      1. Identify water resource problems and opportunities.
      2. Verify that at least one acceptable alternative is cost-effective and within the federal interest.
      3. Identify local support and determine willingness to cost share.
  • No local cost sharing is required in the reconnaissance phase, but the willingness of the local sponsor to participate in the second planning phase (feasibility study) is determined. A Feasibility Cost Sharing Agreement (FCSA) is drafted and negotiated with the local sponsor.
  • Local proponents identify critical issues that may impact consensus for or against a project among the public and private sectors, as well as among diverse interest groups. Public involvement in resolving those issues is an integral part of the planning process.
  • A reconnaissance report that recommends proceeding to the feasibility phase is forwarded to Corps Headquarters along with the draft FCSA. Approval must be obtained prior to proceeding on to the feasibility phase.
  • If the findings of the reconnaissance report are positive, and there is a local sponsor to cost share, funding for the federal share of the feasibility phase is requested from Congress.
  • From this point on, matching non-federal funds are needed to conduct detailed studies. A local project sponsor is required to provide 50 percent of the feasibility study costs, in accordance with the FCSA.
  • Completion of the feasibility phase study can require up to two or three years. It will result in a feasibility report that presents study findings as well as any recommended solutions. The report is accompanied by a draft Local Cooperation Agreement (LCA), that outlines the cost-sharing for the remaining project costs; and either an Environmental Assessment (EA) or, if required, an EIS.
  • The LCA is a legally binding agreement that sets forth the terms of the relationship between the federal government and the local sponsor. In it, the Corps and the local sponsor specify how remaining project costs will be shared, as well as other local cooperation requirements previously described. The value of those requirements is identified in the LCA, and is credited to the local sponsor's share of costs. The LCA is drafted and negotiated, but is not executed until just prior to project construction.
  • The feasibility report is sent (along with the LCA and EIS or EA) to the Division office, where the study conclusions and District recommendations are reviewed. The Division review normally requires approximately 30 days to complete.
  • The Division Engineer issues a public notice announcing the completion of the study; and submits the feasibility report to the Washington Level Review center (WLRC), the Board of Engineers for Rivers and Harbors (BERH), Corps Headquarters, and the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works (ASACW). At this time, other agencies and the public have an opportunity to review the report and provide comments to BERH.
  • Concurrent with initiation of the Washington-level review; a proposed report of the Chief of Engineers, the feasibility report, and the final EIS are sent to heads of federal agencies and governors of affected states for comment. Approximately 90 days are allowed for this review period.
  • The final EIS is filed with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and is made available to the public.
  • A Washington-level review is accomplished concurrently by the public, WLRC, BERH, Corps Headquarters, and ASACW. The normal review period is about 30 days.
  • Washington-level and public review comments are consolidated by WLRC, and are furnished to the reporting District Engineer. The District Engineer then addresses and documents these comments for use in the Washington-level decision-making process.
  • After the Washington-level review and documentation are complete, designated representatives of BERH, Corps Headquarters, ASACW, District and Division staff members, and non-federal sponsor representatives are briefed on the results of the review, as well as any available information from the in-progress state and agency 90-day review. The non-federal sponsor will be included throughout the process.
  • After the briefing, each of the Washington echelons (BERH, Corps Headquarters, and ASACW) will act on the report sequentially and independently, in the above order.
  • Prior to transmittal of the report to Congress and the signing of a Record of Decision by ASACW; the local sponsor, the states, interested federal agencies, and other parties will be advised of any modifications made to recommendations, and will be afforded the opportunity to make any further comments.
  • Changes resulting from the decision-making process could result in the need for revisions to the environmental documentation.
  • After all documentation is complete, ASACW, in consultation with the Office of Management and Budget, establishes the Administration position on whether or not the proposal should be recommended to Congress for authorization.
  • If the proposal is recommended, committee hearings will be held. Subsequently, Congress may authorize the project for construction by including it in the annual Water Resources Development Act.
  • Preconstruction engineering and design is funded at 100-percent federal cost. During this phase, a final LCA is negotiated.
  • If the study was authorized only through the feasibility report, further study must be reinitiated through the budget and appropriations process following congressional authorization.
  • In other cases, the Corps is authorized to continue engineering and design pending congressional authorization for construction of the project.
  • New construction projects are included in the President's annual budget, based on national priorities.
  • Budget recommendations are based on evidence of support by the state in which the proposed project is located, as well as on the willingness and ability of the non-federal sponsor to provide its share of project costs. Budget recommendations are generally presented to Congress in January.
  • Congress appropriates the federal share of funds for new-start projects. Normally, this occurs in the annual Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act enacted in the fall.
  • The draft LCA, first prepared in the feasibility phase of the study (step 5), is finalized and becomes effective. Once Congress has appropriated funds for project implementation, the Secretary of the Army, and the appropriate officials from the sponsoring entity, sign the formal agreement.
  • The LCA establishes the relationship between the federal government and the local non-federal sponsor for implementing, operating, and maintaining the project according to requirements established by Congress and the Administration.
  • Local sponsors are usually required to share the costs of project construction, including engineering and design costs. Those costs are clearly identified in the LCA. The minimum local share of project costs will vary, depending on the project purpose.
  • Engineering and design continue during the implementation process.
  • Funds for the federal share of project construction are included in the President's annual budget. Appropriations are required to continue with design and construction.
  • For flood control projects, local sponsors provide up-front cash financing for at least 5 percent of the total project cost during the construction period (except where the project involves a non-structural solution).
  • The local sponsor is required to obtain all lands, easements, rights-of-way, and utility relocations required for the project; but these costs (first costs) are included as part of the sponsor's share.
  • Project construction is managed by the Corps, but is accomplished by private contractors.
  • Navigation projects with channel depths up to 45 feet are operated and maintained by the federal government. All other projects are operated and maintained by the non-federal sponsor, as part of the LCA.
  • The Corps periodically inspects projects, including those for which non-federal sponsors have assumed operation and maintenance responsibilities.

Each project must be sponsored by, and coordinated with, a local interest (i.e., city, county, state, flood control district, or other legally constituted public body).

  • Formal assurances of local cooperation must be furnished by the local sponsor, who must be fully authorized under state laws to give such assurances and be financially capable of fulfilling all local cooperation requirements.

Examples of items of local cooperation that local sponsors must furnish include the following:

  • Hold and save the United States free from damages due to the construction, operation, and maintenance of the project, except where such damages are due to the fault or negligence of the United States or its contractors.
  • Make all alterations and relocations of buildings, transportation facilities, storm drains, utilities, and other structures and improvements necessary for the construction of the project (excluding the approaches and facilities necessary for the normal interception and disposal of local interior drainage at the line of protection).
  • Prescribe and enforce regulations to prevent obstruction or encroachments on channels and interior ponding areas that would reduce their flood-carrying capacity or hinder maintenance and operation; as well as to control development in the project areas in order to prevent an undue increase in flood damage potential.
  • At least annually, inform affected interests about the limitations of protection offered by the project.
  • Publicize floodplain information in the areas concerned, and provide this information to zoning and other regulatory agencies for their guidance and leadership in preventing unwise future development in the floodplain. This will help them to adopt regulations which will ensure compatibility between future development and protection levels provided by the project.
  • Comply with the provision of the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act of 1970 (Public Law 91-646); Section 601 of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Public Law 88-352); and Section 221 of the Flood Control Act of 1970 (Public Law 91-611), as amended.

In accordance with the Water Resources Development Act of 1986 (Public Law 99-662), the costs of studies and projects are shared between the Federal Government and the local sponsor. The following list summarizes the requirements of the local sponsor:

  • Pay 50 percent of the feasibility study costs. Up to one-half of the local sponsor's share may consist of in-kind services, in which they actually undertake a portion of the study. Such services include surveying, soil investigations, schematic design, or public involvement. The remainder of the local share must be a cash contribution.
  • Pay a minimum of 25 percent, but not more than 50 percent, of the total cost for flood control. The cost-sharing requirement for nonstructural projects is a flat 25 percent.
  • For structural projects, pay 5 percent of the cost for constructed flood control works (in cash during construction).
  • Provide all lands, easements, rights-of-way, and relocations. The costs to obtain these items can be credited toward the local sponsor's share.
  • Provide any added contribution needed to make the local sponsor's share equal to at least 25 percent.

If you have any questions concerning the General Investigations Program, or would like assistance, please call 208-433-4466, or write:

District Engineer
Department of the Army
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Walla Walla District
Boise Outreach Office
720 Park Boulevard
Boise, ID 83712
208-433-4466