Friday, January 22, 2010

USACE does AM!

After a long, long, enjoyable holiday break - I'm back.

And what a way to begin the year, with a USACE colonel quoted in public saying they do AM:
"This is adaptive management, making decisions based on science and the performance that's occurring on the ground to assure the resources of the river are being used to their highest priority," said Col. Alvin Lee, chairman of the task force and commander of the corps' New Orleans District.
Nice to see it getting some traction in the higher echelons of decision making. However, at least as outlined in the article, I don't think the closing of the West Bay Diversion project meets the criteria to be AM:
  1. The decision isn't iterative (at least not at the scale of a single project).
  2. The decision was not influenced by ongoing monitoring, but by a special study.
It is possible to think of AM for projects like the diversion at the scale of multiple projects, where the decision is made each year, or every few years, about whether the project should be maintained or not, based on scheduled monitoring data that is used to determine whether keeping a project open or closed is better meeting the fundamental objectives. In this case, it appears as though the diversion was closed as a result of a study commissioned after the Corps had determined there was a problem. This is fine, but it isn't adaptive management.

There is also a subtle point to be made about whether it is past performance, or expected future performance that is relevant - Col. Lee's quote attributes the decision to "... science and the performance occuring on the ground ...". However, it is in fact the expected future performance, specifically the additional costs of dredging, that sealed the deal:
The Breaux Act Task Force voted to close the controversial project after concluding that its project budget would be on the hook for millions of dollars every three years to dredge a nearby shipping anchorage. The diversion also is now seen as having been built in the wrong location - too close to the mouth of the river - to maximize the use of fresh water and sediment to build new land.
It is not widely appreciated that whenever we make a decision, we must imagine the future consequences of each choice. I suppose you could flip a coin to make a decision without imagining the future consequences of each choice, but I hope that we hold federal agencies to a higher standard! And when you imagine the future consequences, whether you like it or not, you are using a model.