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Hydrologic processes are very sensitive to changes in temperature, which can affect the form of precipitation (rain, snow), precipitation intensity and volume, the timing and volume of runoff, and conditions that cause or enhance drought. Observed climate change and variability have affected USACE water resources management-related missions and operations. USACE has developed and implemented policy and guidance to ensure that we are able to continue to provide reliable services in changing conditions. For example, changes in drought intensity and frequency in the late 1970s prompted the development of policy and technical guidance to improve drought contingency planning in coordination with stakeholders, resulting in the release of Engineer Regulation (ER) 1110-2-1941, Drought Contingency Plans in 1981. In the mid 1980s, an analysis of changing sea levels conducted by experts and presented in the influential 1987 National Research Council Report Responding to Changes in Sea Level: Engineering Implications This link leaves this site for another Federal Government web site. clearly demonstrated that local and regional changes in sea level had and could continue to impact the reliability and performance of coastal infrastructure. At that time, over half (about 150) USACE coastal jetties were over 50 years old and a quarter (about 75) were over 100 years old. Given the importance of coastal navigation and flood risk reduction infrastructure to economic development and public safety, USACE issued a guidance letter in 1986 requiring coastal evaluations to consider the impacts of changing sea levels. This was succeeded in 1989 by Engineering Circular (EC) 1105-2-186 titled Planning Guidance on the Incorporation of Sea Level Rise Possibilities in Feasibility Studies (pdf, 609 KB) and in 2000 by the Planning Guidance Notebook (Engineer Regulation (ER) 1105-2-100).

The early 1990s brought studies on the economic impacts of climate change and a conference reporting on regional sensitivity of water resources management and potential adaptive responses. By the early 2000s, watershed studies began to focus on water-related impacts form climate change both within and outside the USACE. Stakeholders such as the Western Governors' Association recognized the need to better manage water resources in a changing environment. A renewed emphasis on incorporating new and changing conditions was identified in the internal and external analyses following Hurricane Katrina. In 2007, USACE, together with the Bureau of Reclamation, the US Geological Survey, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, began an effort to better understand the impacts of climate change and variability on water resources management, culminating in an interagency report Climate Change and Water Resources Management: A Federal Perspective This link leaves this site for another Federal Government web site., published as USGS Circular 1331 in 2009. Also published in 2009 was updated policy and guidance for changing sea levels, EC 1165-2-211, Incorporating Sea-Level Change Considerations in Civil Works Programs (pdf, 463 KB) and ER 1110-2-8160, Policies for Referencing Project Elevation Grades to Nationwide Vertical Datums. Both of these policies addressed land subsidence and changing sea levels that were identifies as contributing to the impacts of Hurricane Katrina. USACE has actively worked with partners and stakeholders since then to improve actionable science that underlies decision-making supporting continued reliable performance in changing conditions.


In June 2014, The Honorable Jo-Ellen Darcy, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, released the USACE Climate Preparedness and Resilience Policy Statement (pdf, 3.17 MB). This policy statement reaffirms and supersedes the 3 June 2011 Adaptation Policy Statement (pdf, 201 KB). The Policy Statement says that "Mainstreaming climate change adaptation means that it will be considered at every step in the project life cycle for all USACE projects, both existing and planned… to reduce vulnerabilities and enhance the resilience of our water-resource infrastructure."

The Policy Statement establishes the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) as the agency official responsible for ensuring implementation of all aspects of this policy. Through this policy, USACE establishes the USACE Committee on Climate Preparedness and Resilience to oversee and coordinate agency-wide climate change adaptation planning and implementation. The Committee is chaired by the Chief, Engineering and Construction.

Mainstreaming adaptation, as described in the Policy Statement, combined with the actions taken to improve energy and water conservation and reduce greenhouse gas emissions as described in the USACE Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan prepared in response to Executive Order 13514, will help us adapt to impacts from climate change and mitigate climate change.

In mainstreaming adaptation, our goal is to develop practical, nationally consistent, legally justifiable, and cost effective measures, both structural and nonstructural, to reduce vulnerabilities and improve the resilience of our water resources infrastructure impacted by climate change and other global changes.

The USACE recognizes the very significant differences between climate change adaptation and climate change mitigation in terms of physical complexity, fiscal and material resources, level of knowledge and technical readiness, and temporal and geographic scale. Because of these differences, understanding and implementing climate adaptation policies and measures requires very different knowledge, skills, and abilities than implementing mitigation measures. As a result, the Climate Change Adaptation Steering Committee is chaired by the Chief, Engineering and Construction.

Federal Policies

The White House Council on Environmental Quality issued a set of Implementing Instructions for Federal Agency Climate Change Adaptation (pdf, 1.4 MB) on 4 March 2011 in response to the growing awareness that Federal agencies must begin to plan for and adapt to climate change.

This awareness stemmed from a growing body of evidence that climate has always changed and will change in the future, both globally and locally. Extensive records from ice cores, tree rings, sediment cores, glacier lengths and others, as summarized in a 2006 National Research Council report demonstrate the changing nature of climate. These changes can occur either gradually or abruptly. The best available scientific evidence based on observations from long-term monitoring networks indicates that climate change is occurring, with effects differing regionally.

President's Climate Action Plan

The President's Climate Action Plan (CAP) (pdf, 311 KB) released 25 June 2013 reinforces previous actions to conserve energy and reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that drive anthropogenic climate change (Climate Change Mitigation), acknowledges that we must prepare for adverse impacts of climate change (Climate Change Adaptation), and stresses international leadership and collaboration for both mitigation and adaptation plans and actions.

The highest priority in the CAP is to prepare for the impacts of climate change by building stronger and more resilient communities and protecting natural resources based on sound science. Climate change is causing the weather to become more extreme, and this trend can be expected to continue into the future as climate continues to change. The economic and public health consequences of these weather extremes require us to act now. The three key pillars of the CAP are:

  • Cut carbon pollution: Climate change mitigation to avoid unmanageable consequences
  • Prepare for climate change: Climate change adaptation to manage unavoidable consequences
  • Lead international efforts to combat climate change and prepare for its impacts

This Adaptation Plan primarily addresses adaptation in the context of the second two pillars, but also provides information on our efforts around biosequestration and integrating adaptation and mitigation.

EO 13653, Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change

EO 13653 This link leaves this site for another Federal Government web site., released on 1 November2013, supplements EO 13514 This link leaves this site for another Federal Government web site. (Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance), which is primarily concerned with water conservation and climate change mitigation through energy conservations and greenhouse gas emissions. Section 7(i) of EO 13514 required agencies to evaluate climate-change risks and vulnerabilities to manage the effects of climate change on the agency's operations and mission in both the short and long term. USACE completed several high-level analyses of vulnerabilities in accordance with Section 8(i), and began the process of phased vulnerability assessments which are being refined over time. Section 16 of EO 13514 laid out agency roles to support the Federal Adaptation Strategy, including participation in the Climate Change Adaptation Task Force (CCATF), development of a governance structure, and some general language about developing approaches, policies, and practices to support adaptation. The Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, Ms. Jo-Ellen Darcy, was names as the Senior Adaptation Point of Contact and served as the USACE principal on the CCATF. The USACE Climate Change Adaptation Steering Committee was formed to oversee USACE climate change adaptation activities. An overarching agency adaptation policy was released by Ms. Darcy on 3 June 2011, and subsequent policy and guidance has been released through the Adaptation Steering Committee.

In contrast, EO 13653 contains very specific language, goals, and objectives to prepare the Nation for the impacts of climate change by undertaking actions to enhance climate preparedness and resilience. EO 13653 requires agency policy to engage in partnering and information sharing, support risk-informed decision-making and associated tools, incorporate adaptive learning so that experience informs and guides adjustments to future actions, and undertake climate preparedness planning. In doing so, agencies are to modernize federal programs to support climate resilient investment, and manage lands and waters for climate preparedness and resilience. Specific requirements for agency Adaptation Plans are described. A new Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience replaces the CCATF, and Council Working Groups are established, some of which continue CCATF Working Groups. A State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force was convened to make recommendations to improve climate preparedness and resilience for States, local communities, and tribes.

Need help understanding Executive Order (EO) 13653, Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change? Want to know how to increase resiliency and prepare for a changing environment?  GSA, with the assistance of theUS Global Change Research Program, has developed a Sustainable Facilities Tool This link leaves this site for another Federal Government web site.(SFTool) that can walk you through a hot annotated version of EO 13653 and provide information on definitions, strategies, and links along the way.  Hot annotations, or clickable terms, appear as you explore the EO on the SFTool. The annotations contain three different types of valuable information about successfully putting policy into action:  

  • External Resources: Links to federal external resources that can help your agency better understand and implement EO 13653.
  • Definitions: Information on new terminology from federal sources.
  • Strategies & Best Practices: Learn how other federal agencies are taking steps to prepare for a changing climate.

USACE June 2015 Climate Change Adaptation Plan Update to 2014 Plan

This USACE 2015 Adaptation Plan (pdf, 6.23 MB; low-resolution version, 2.40 MB) is an update to the 2014 Adaptation Plan, and was submitted to CEQ and OMB as part of the USACE Sustainability Plan. This 2015 Adaptation Plan update reflects climate preparedness and resilience actions in the Climate and Natural Resources Priority Agenda and recommendations from the State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force for Climate Preparedness and Resilience, released in fall 2014. This update also addresses EO 13677 (Climate-Resilient International Development), EO 13689 (Enhancing Coordination of National Efforts in the Arctic), EO 13690 (Establishing a Federal Flood Risk Management Standard and a Process for Further Soliciting and Considering Stakeholder Input), and EO 13693 (Planning for Federal Sustainability in the Next Decade).

2014 Climate Change Adaptation Plan and Report

In June 2014, USACE submitted its 2014 Climate Change Adaptation Plan (pdf, 40.0 MB | low-resolution version 4.0MB) to CEQ and OMB as part of the USACE Sustainability Plan. The 2014 Adaptation Plan describes activities under way to evaluate the most significant climate change related risks to, and vulnerabilities in, agency operations and mission in both the short and long term, and outlines actions that USACE is taking to manage these risks and vulnerabilities.

2013 Climate Change Adaptation Plan and Report

In June 2013, USACE submitted its 2013 Climate Change Adaptation Plan (pdf, 1.94 MB) to CEQ and OMB as part of the USACE Sustainability Plan. The 2013 Adaptation Plan contains updates to information provided in the 2012 Plan, including responses to public comments received regarding the 2020 Climate Change Adaptation Plan and Report.

2012 Climate Change Adaptation Plan and Report (Released for Public Comment Period on 7 February 2013)

In accordance with the March 2011 Implementing Instructions (pdf, 52 KB) and its Support Document (pdf, 52 KB), USACE prepared and submitted a 2012 Climate Change Adaptation Plan and Report (pdf, 2.13 MB) to CEQ and OMB. This Plan and Report is included as an Appendix to the USACE FY12 Sustainability Plan.

The USACE 2012 Climate Change Adaptation Plan and Report is a product of the USACE Adaptation Steering Committee in support of the USACE Senior POC for Adaptation, ASA/CW Ms. Jo-Ellen Darcy, and represents an update to the 2011 Climate Change Adaptation Plan and Report (see below).

The Adaptation Steering Committee, chaired by Chief of Engineering Mr. James C. Dalton, PE, has actively promoted the development of policy and guidance to improve the resilience and decrease the vulnerability of our missions, operations, programs, projects, and systems of projects to the effects of climate change and variability. USACE has been working actively with its partners and stakeholders to develop consistent national policy and guidance based on the best available and actionable science. A brief overview of progress on policy and guidance is attached here. (pdf, 385 KB)

FY 2011 Adaptation Plan and Report

Adaptation strategies and policies are needed to support the continuing ability of water resources infrastructure to reduce the risks posed by climate change. The USACE Climate Change Adaptation Plan and Report 2011 (pdf, 2.88 MB), revised in September 2011, is the USACE response to the Implementing Instructions. The Report also answers the guiding questions posed by the White House Council on Environmental Quality in the Implementing Instructions and describes our progress and future priorities.


USACE is taking a collaborative partnering approach with other Federal agencies that takes advantage of our different perspectives and expertise so our progress on adaptation reflects the best available and actionable science. USACE is also working to help guide the science related to adaptation to better meet USACE needs and the needs of other land and water resources agencies.

Our approach is phased, allowing us to identify uncertainties, whether in climate projections or in systems responses so we begin adaptation in areas where uncertainties are relatively smaller and the risk of adverse or unintended consequences is lower.

We are developing and implementing plans, policies, and infrastructure adaptation in parallel, rather than sequentially, so adaptation begins soonest for projects that are most vulnerable. These efforts include:

  • Pilot-testing adaptation methods, sharing lessons learned within and outside the Corps, and refining our adaptation based on the new knowledge gained from those pilot tests.
  • Working within a risk-informed framework that considers all of the challenges facing the Corps, which will enable USACE to implement integrated water resources management solutions to the impacts of climate change.
  • Conducting a nationwide screening-level assessment of vulnerability to climate change. The results of this assessment will be refined in future phases, including detailed, project level assessments and regional assessments.

Fiscal Year 2011 and 2012 Priorities

As described in our FY 2011 and FY 2012 Adaptation Plans and Reports, our highest priorities for FY11 and FY12 include:

  • Continued support to the National Action Plan to Manage Freshwater Resources in a Changing Climate
  • Continued development, testing, and implementation of a framework for risk-informed decision-making for climate change
  • Continued interagency and expert progress on addressing the critical need for guidance in the case of nonstationary hydrology
  • Continued work on developing best practice guidelines for how to select from the portfolio of approaches to develop climate information appropriate for different decisions
  • Continued refinement of our vulnerability assessments to include bottom-up approaches at the project level
  • Development and application of metrics and endpoints to measure adaptation effectiveness


revised 17 May 2017


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