U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Commemorates 200th Anniversary of the Civil Works Program

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is today commemorating the 200th anniversary of the Civil Works program.

“The Civil Works mission that has been entrusted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is something that makes USACE unique among the world’s military organizations,” said Lt. Gen. Scott A. Spellmon, USACE commanding general. “Our abilities to cohesively perform military, civil, and research and development missions have enabled us to take on and find solutions for many of our nation’s toughest challenges both at home and abroad.

“We take great pride in the contributions we make to our nation, her citizens and our armed forces on a daily basis.”

The beginnings of the Civil Works mission for USACE are based on two key pieces of legislation passed by Congress and signed into law by President James Monroe in 1824.

The General Survey Act of 1824, signed into law April 30, 1824, authorized Army engineers to chart transportation improvements vital to the nation’s military security and commercial growth through the design of state and private roads, canals, and railroads determined to be of national interest. The work authorized in the Act enabled Army engineers to significantly contribute to the nation’s westward expansion and provided legislation that enabled subsequent rivers and harbors acts to authorize funds for navigation improvements.

The first Rivers and Harbors Act was then signed into law May 24, 1824, to authorize improvements for navigation on the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, recognizing the vital importance of maintaining navigable waterways for commerce and transportation.

Over the following 200 years, Congress and administrations approved additional pieces of legislation that expanded and defined what is the current USACE civil works mission. Among the key pieces of legislation are:

  • 1899 – Refuse Act gave USACE authority to regulate obstructions to navigation.
  • 1928 – Flood Control Act adopted a comprehensive plan for flood control on the Lower Mississippi River, including the use of floodways and spillways in addition to levees.
  • 1936 – Flood Control Act made flood control a federal policy and officially recognized USACE as the major federal flood control agency.
  • 1944 – Flood Control Act authorized USACE to develop water projects in the Missouri River Valley in accordance with the Pick-Sloan Plan and further authorized USACE to provide fish and wildlife management and public outdoor recreation facilities at its projects.
  • 1986 – The Water Resources Development Act of 1986 brought major change in financing by requiring nonfederal contributions toward most federal water resources projects.
  • 1997 – Formerly Used Sites Remedial Action Program transferred from Department of Energy to USACE.
  • 2000 – Congress approved the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan with USACE designated as the lead agency.

The USACE Civil Works program today touches millions of American lives daily through goods and products that are delivered via ports, harbors and waterways; the production of clean, renewable hydropower; water supply for residential, commercial and irrigation use; habitat for fish and wildlife; and recreational opportunities.

The program also plays a critical role in the nation’s efforts to reduce risks to citizens and communities from natural disasters, restore and protect the environment, and promote social and economic well-being.

A historical vignette prepared by the USACE Office of History, titled “A Brief Legislative History of the General Survey Act,” is available at https://www.usace.army.mil/About/History/Historical-Vignettes/Civil-Engineering/165-General-Survey-Act/. Two additional vignettes are planned in the coming weeks.

For more information about the USACE Civil Works program, please visit https://www.usace.army.mil/Missions/Civil-Works/.

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