USACE Engineering With Nature program at heart of recent Presidential Executive Order

Published 12:23 pm Monday, July 18, 2022

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Engineering With Nature (EWN) program enables more sustainable delivery of economic, social and environmental benefits associated with infrastructure.

For more than 10 years, the program has grown substantially garnering support from collaborative partners from around the world and recently reaching all the way to the White House.

“Engineering With Nature represents an approach to developing and operating a project, expanding the benefits gained by integrating the natural landscape into the engineering design,” said Dr. Todd Bridges, U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) senior research scientist for environmental sciences and national EWN program lead.

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Nature-based solutions (NBS) is becoming a universal term to describe the types of projects EWN creates and is now the standard in the U.S. and internationally in relation to U.N. activities and communities of practice in climate-change treaties.

Layering nature-based solutions with traditional infrastructure achieves more socially acceptable, environmentally viable and sustainable projects. These projects potentially have lower whole-life costs, provide a greater diversity of benefits and may be more adaptable over time than conventional alternatives.

“Over the last five years, natural hazards, such as floods and storms, produced more than $10 billion in damages to Department of Defense (DOD) installations,” Bridges said. “The complex DOD mission necessitates resilient infrastructure systems requiring innovative action. EWN is leading the way to harness the power of nature to support mission resilience.”

The EWN program, and NBS in general, received major support from the highest level when President Joe Biden issued Executive Order 14072, “Strengthening the Nation’s Forests, Communities, and Local Economies” on April 22.

In Section 4, titled “Deploying Nature-Based Solutions to Tackle Climate Change and Enhance Resilience,” the order identifies three activities to push NBS forward.

It calls for an interagency report on NBS and how to overcome obstacles in their implementation in the federal government and how to facilitate the progression of NBS. ERDC scientists and personnel from other federal agencies have joined a White House working group to develop ideas on how to implement NBS across the nation.

The order also directs the Office of Management and Budget to issue “guidance related to the valuation of ecosystem and environmental services and natural assets in federal regulatory decision-making.” According to Bridges, this is critical for USACE project approval, justification and evaluation through the benefit cost-analysis process.

Lastly, the order establishes the commitment to perform a national nature assessment. There is no national effort to collect the status of nature as it relates to humankind. This national nature assessment will look at the condition of nature and how it is being harmed.

“The issuing of this executive order lays the groundwork for big change where the Engineering With Nature program is concerned,” said Bridges. “EWN is at the heart of this executive order. Many USACE projects already apply EWN principles, and the executive order will push EWN further into the mainstream from once innovative to now expected. Communities win with resilient natural infrastructure providing expanded economic, environmental and social benefits.”