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Delivering on Sustainability

February 7th, 2011

A crane operator from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers San Francisco District drift removal team lifts out pieces of a dilapidated pier just off the coast of San Pablo Bay, Calif.

Many people have heard me use the term “building to last” when talking about the need for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to use the talents and innovation within our organization to help preserve our planet and build our Army and our Nation strong.

Because of our diverse and global mission, we have a unique opportunity to make a significant impact on the sustainability of our global resources and the security of our Nation. We’re working hard to improve efficiencies in our facilities and vehicles, increasing our use of renewable energy, and improving water use and management. We’re looking across the entire organization, at all our missions and activities, both day-to-day and those planned for the future, to see where we can build upon existing sustainability initiatives and take advantage of new opportunities and technologies.

This week we’re delivering!!

At our San Francisco District we’re working with our partners at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to begin testing an almost 100 percent, non-petroleum fuel called B100. It can be used to power the vessels that range from debris vessels to towboats and all types in between. This week’s test is the first of several we’re running on vessels within our floating plant to see if this more sustainable option will set a new standard for how we’re working to build a more sustainable Corps.

We still have a little ways to go make sure we’re getting this right, but each journey starts with the first step!

Van

BUILDING STRONG®

Environment/Sustainability ,

Rebuilding the Everglades through Partnership

October 22nd, 2010

Kissimme birds fly around the Florida Everglades.

This week I’m in Florida at Phase II of the District Engineer Course. Much of the discussion centered around transparent communications and the value of partnerships with local communities, and state and federal leaders.  

One of the best examples of an open, quality partnership is here in Florida.  The Florida Everglades is one of the most diverse ecosystems on earth. It is also the major fresh water source for southern Florida and key in the battle against flooding and drought. 

More than a century ago, the environmental benefits of the Everglades were mortgaged in favor of commercial and real estate development, destroying nearly half of the Everglades.  Now, the federal government, state and local authorities are joining together in the largest environmental restoration effort in history called the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). 

This plan aims to enhance Everglades’ wetlands and associated lakes, rivers, and bays in the 16-county region of South Florida. CERP projects will capture and store much of the water currently lost to the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, ensuring that the biodiversity of the Everglades can be preserved and expanded. 

CERP can’t happen without the cooperation of a variety of agencies and governments. The Corps actively works with the South Florida Water Management District, the Department of the Interior, the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, the Everglades National Park Service, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and the Miami-Dade Department of Environmental Resources Management, just to name a few. 

Together, our partnership is working to restore the wetlands to the valuable natural landscape it once was through dozens of projects, including adding 55,000 acres of habitat to the Everglades system.  

Building a strong environment for our Nation through partnership…that’s a lesson worth learning! 

Van

Civil Works, Environment/Sustainability ,

Corps Works with Interagency Response Team on Oil Spill

June 1st, 2010

From the beginning of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has worked closely with other national agencies, the States and others in response to this incident. The environmental consequences of this disaster are expected to be unmatched and unprecedented.

Recently, Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority submitted an application requesting emergency authorization for a restoration project that could enhance the capability of some barrier islands to reduce the inland movement of oil from the spill site. Col. Al Lee, New Orleans District commander, approved the emergency permit to Louisiana for portions of this barrier island plan.

For more information about this permit decision please check out:
http://www.mvn.usace.army.mil/news/view.asp?ID=341

Assisting the nation in a time of disaster is something the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has always done and we stand ready to assist now, and in the future.

Emergency Response, Environment/Sustainability, Regulatory , , , ,

The Nation’s Environmental Engineer

April 21st, 2010

It was April 22, 1970, when 20 million Americans joined then Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson to mark the first Earth Day. And now, 40 years later, we’re still marking the occasion. For those of us who are part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, it’s one more day in our journey toward ensuring that our actions are sustainable and that we are the very best stewards we can be of this country, of this planet.

The challenges we face are enormous – climate change, renewable energy, green jobs, green remediation, energy reduction, just to name a few. But the opportunities for an organization like ours are equally enormous. We are the nation’s environmental engineer. No other federal agency is addressing environmental issues of the same scope and magnitude as we are, but that’s not to say that we’re doing it alone. We know that addressing the immense environmental challenges of the 21st century requires working in close collaboration and partnership with others.  We continually seek to partner with other federal and state agencies, non-governmental environmental organizations and academia to find innovative solutions to environmental issues.

Since that first Earth Day, Americans have increasingly become aware of the need to be “green.” That goes for USACE as well. We have been looking at the environmental impacts of our work for four decades, going back to the days of Lt. Gen. Frederick J. Clarke, the 43rd Chief of Engineers, who served from 1969 to 1973, and Lt. Gen. Henry J. Hatch, the 48th Chief of Engineers, who, in the early 1990′s, laid out a very eloquent vision for taking care of the environment, a vision that set the foundation for our work today. “Environmental ethics and values must be more than an overlay. They must be a bone-deep part of our way of doing business,” Lt. Gen. Hatch said in 1992. Sound familiar? It should. Lt. Gen. Robert B. Flowers, our 50th Chief of Engineers, said much the same when he introduced our Environmental Operating Principles in 2002, the same principles focusing on sustainability that we continue to apply to all our work today. “We have placed environmental values on an equal footing with economic and engineering concerns in support of environmentally sustainable development,” Flowers said.

The principles, every bit as valid today as they were eight years ago, can’t be an after thought, or a “nice-to-have” thought that we include at the end, they must be considered at the very beginning of each and every project we undertake. The projects we’re undertaking will have lasting impact. Our personnel at the Institute for Water Resources are working collaboratively with other federal agencies and scientists from around the world on several different projects that address climate change challenges. We’ve just hosted an international workshop on designing projects to be resilient in the face of climate variability; we’re planning a workshop on how best to use the climate information that’s being produced; we’re working with the Council on Environmental Quality as it develops a national climate change adaptation strategy; and we’re going to test some new adaptation ideas on projects this year. We’ve established a greenhouse gas reduction target for the Corps of Engineers that addresses the unique challenges posed by our Civil Works sites. The target calls for reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by 23 percent between now and 2020. Achieving that target will allow us to meet the requirements of Executive Order 13514, Federal Leadership in Environment, Energy and Economic Performance, which is President Barack Obama’s plan to make the federal government more sustainable. We have two energetic sustainability leaders on board now at the headquarters and are discussing including this skill set at each of our divisions to spearhead our sustainability initiatives across the Corps. A number of our districts are following suit.

And the list goes on – the U.S. Green Building Council presented a Leadership Award to a team of Corps employees for their work in transitioning the Army from the Sustainable Project Rating Tool to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards for all military construction projects; our Formerly Used Defense Sites team in Alaska District won the Secretary of the Army Environmental Restoration Team award for its work at Tanaga Island; and we just signed a new memorandum of understanding with The Conservation Fund to promote enhanced conservation and balanced management of our nation’s water resources. All of this shows that although Earth Day has been around for 40 years, the challenges, and opportunities, continue. We will continue to be on the cutting edge of the Army when it comes to taking care of the environment and promoting the sustainability ethic, and not just on Earth Day.

 BUILDING STRONG®

Environment/Sustainability, Uncategorized ,

Climate Change and USACE

January 6th, 2010

The weather here in Washington, DC is down-right cold, and we only recently saw the record snowfall of a few weeks ago melt enough that we could reasonably get around.  But what we’ve been experiencing is nothing compared to, say, Minnesota or Wisconsin. There was a news report the other day that said the low temperature in one part of Minnesota was so low (-37), that it would have to heat up 69 degrees just to not be below freezing. That’s just crazy cold. In other parts of the world, though, glaciers are melting at a record pace and drought still has people in California under water conservation orders.

 Needless to say, all this extreme weather poses an opportunity to talk about what we are doing at USACE with regard to climate change, in our role as the nation’s environmental engineers.  Gen. Casey, Army Chief of Staff, has said that we are in what he calls “an era of persistent conflict.” Part of that is because of climate change and how it can be a game-changer, creating “haves and “have-nots” around the world. 

I am a member of a United Nations committee called the “High-level Panel on Water and Disasters.”  Last year I presented our report in Istanbul, Turkey.  It was a phenomenal conference.  We came to the conclusion that we need to do much better planning – on a worldwide scale.  We have to ask ourselves – what will our response be? What might the early warnings be?  What would be the evacuation plans?  What would be those measures that an individual can take? What about local and state governments? Federal?  And I’m not just talking about the U.S. – we all need to be asking these questions, all around the world. 

Know that we are planning for all these contingencies, and more than that – we are putting the full capabilities of our Engineer Research and Development Center to work.  We are currently involved in several water studies about conservation and reuse, and we are always working on sustainable practices and technologies. In fact, at Fort Irwin in California, we are currently working on the Department of Defense’s largest solar energy project.

We also collaborated with the U.S. Geological Survey, the Bureau of Reclamation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to write “Climate Change and Water Resources Management:  A Federal Perspective,” released last February, that assessed approaches to climate variability and change in water resources management, on which future agency policies, methods, and processes will be based.  And this past summer, we issued a new policy, “Incorporating Sea-Level Change Considerations in Civil Works Programs,” that instructs our project managers to be prepared to implement flexible planning and engineering adaptations that account for a range of possible changes.

The bottom line is – we are planning and preparing for – and doing everything we can to prevent – issues related to climate change.  It’s a very real concern that could have very real consequences all over the world, and we’re on it.

Environment/Sustainability, Research and Development , , ,

Corps Celebrates Earth Day

April 22nd, 2009

Today is Earth Day, and we began celebrating this important initiative last weekend by taking part in the National Sustainable Design Expo on the National Mall. The fifth annual Expo, hosted by EPA, showcased innovative sustainable designs and projects created by student teams from colleges around the country. USACE had two booths, staffed by our hard-working volunteers, that featured our Environmental Community of Practice and our lakes and recreation areas.

USACE senior leaders tour the National Sustainable Design Expo

USACE senior leaders tour the National Sustainable Design Expo

While the event was a great opportunity to attract and encourage graduating college students to consider joining our team, the best part was seeing the great desire these students have to make the world more sustainable.

Sustainable energy is a crucial mission that we are proud to play a key role in accomplishing. The Army and Department of Defense are heavily involved in reducing energy consumption and finding renewable and alternative forms of energy, and your Corps of Engineers is a key player in this effort.

Base Realignment and Closure and our historically large, military construction mission provide a golden opportunity. For this fiscal year, which began in October, the Army budgeted for and began building 14 exciting, renewable-energy projects. Two projects worth noting are a geothermal heating and cooling project at Fort Sill that will save nearly 2,500 barrels of oil per year, and solar walls and rehabilitation shops at Fort Knox, which will save 2,400 barrels of oil per year. These projects will have a lasting impact to the economic and environmental health of this Nation. I love it!

We are working hard to meet Army sustainability goals, called Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and our energy contractors have already invested more than $418 million in 70 energy related infrastructure projects at 30 Army installations over the past few years. We project a total contractor investment of about $194 million, of which $58 million is for renewable energy-related projects this fiscal year.

The Corps of Engineers is working hard to build this nation “energy strong” now and for the future.

Corps Projects, Environment/Sustainability, Infrastructure , , , ,

Earth Day

April 22nd, 2008

The calendar says that today, April 22, marks the 38th celebration of Earth Day!

Most people don’t think of us this way, but the Corps is actually one of the Nation’s largest environmental agencies.  Taking care of and enhancing the environment is one of our major missions – a part of everything we do.  The same can be said for the sustainability ethic.  

Potential future engineers sport their new U.S. Army Corps of Engineers backpacks on the Capital Mall, while spending Earth Day at the National Sustainable Design Expo

Potential future engineers sport their new U.S. Army Corps of Engineers backpacks on the Capital Mall, while spending Earth Day at the National Sustainable Design Expo

The Army’s Earth Day theme is “Sustaining the Environment for a Secure Future.” That theme recognizes that sustainability is a national security imperative, a strategic framework, a combat multiplier and a driver for innovation.

It is not another “program of the month” only to be discussed during April or on Earth Day.  It’s much more than just an “environmental thing.”

It’s clear that sustainbility and security are connected — sustainability is all about ensuring that our Soldiers today have the capabilities needed to conduct their mission tomorrow. And the Corps’ missions support sustainability — we sustain our water resources, sustain our communities, sustain our Nation’s economic resources and sustain our national security.

We must continue to seek out opportunities to incorporate sustainability in everything we do and share our best practices throughout the Corps and the Army — not just on Earth Day, but every day!

Environment/Sustainability, Miscellaneous "neat stuff" , , ,

Balancing the Nation’s Water Resources

March 25th, 2008

(Originally posted March 25, 2008)

Here at the Corps, we are often faced with many challenges as we serve the Nation. Managing our precious water resources in sustainable ways that serve the needs of both people and nature is one of the biggest of those challenges.

One of the critical balancing acts begins at midnight tonight, March 25, as we initiate a two-day “pulse” of water from the Gavins Point Dam on the Missouri River in South Dakota, to make sure there is enough water downstream for the endangered pallid sturgeon. This increased water flow is essential to the fish in the upper reaches of the river – an area that has not experienced any of the recent rains, and is experiencing very low water levels right now.

I want to say right up front that we would not be doing this if we felt that there was any risk to the health and safety of the people downstream. Given the forecast models we’re looking at now, the flows resulting from this pulse won’t be anywhere near high river stages. We are closely monitoring the forecasts and runoff and if anything changes, we are prepared to make adjustments. We are releasing this pulse to comply with the Endangered Species Act, and the judgments of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service experts who have determined that this release of water is the best way to replicate the increased water flows that would happen naturally in the spring, if there were no dams on the river. Over the course of the year, the impact of the pulse will reduce the levels in each of the large upper three reservoirs by less than a tenth of a foot.

Also, it’s very important to note that there won’t be any impact to historical and cultural sites along the reservoirs that are significant to the Missouri River Basin Tribes. Finally, I want to reemphasize that we would not initiate the Missouri River pulse if we were aware of any risk to the health and safety of people down river, or if we thought that we would be adding to their current hardships from the flooding.

Our thoughts and prayers for a speedy recovery go out to all those who have been so terribly affected.

Civil Works, Corps Projects, Environment/Sustainability, Locks and Dams , , , , , , ,

Our Native American Partners

March 10th, 2008

(Originally posted March 10, 2008)

This week, I had the opportunity to speak to the National Congress of American Indians, and it got me thinking about how wonderful it is to team with them, because we can learn so much from them about how to best care for our nation’s resources.
My speech to the National Congress of American Indians

My speech to the National Congress of American Indians

 In fact, we have a terrific Corps program that builds upon both the sustainability ethic and our Environmental Operating Principles, called the Native American Environmental/Cultural Resource Training.  This course, first developed in 2002, has four goals: (1) to develop a better understanding of indigenous cultural, spiritual and environmental beliefs; (2) to share the knowledge and experience of sustainable living; (3) to develop the principles and values necessary to evaluate federal agency actions concerning sustainability and environmental concerns; and (4) to find synergy in the sharing of ideas among federal agencies in the protection and preservation of the land and natural environment.

This course is as an excellent opportunity to learn cultural sensitivity, communication, flexibility, and team-building skills. It focuses on sustainable living.  During the weeklong immersion course, participants live with one of our three tribal partners, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Oregon, the Rose Bud Sioux Reservation in South Dakota, and the Seminole Indian Reservation in Florida. This training may not be what you immediately think of when you hear the word “sustainability” but it’s an excellent example of how we should embed this concept into our projects and activities just as our tribal teammates do.

More information about the course, as well as a link to a video about the course, can be found on our Tribal Nations Web site.  

Environment/Sustainability, History, Miscellaneous "neat stuff" , , , , , , ,