News: Tennessee, corps officials sign new partnership agreement
Story by Leon Roberts
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee agencies and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials signed a new partnership agreement today that reaffirms a commitment to cooperate and communicate with each other to achieve mutual water resource goals aimed at improved quality of life for citizens.
The federal and state agencies last signed a partnership agreement in 2009. Flood responses on the Cumberland and Mississippi Rivers and tornadoes in the region over the past two years kept the group from meeting to sign a new agreement until now.
Meeting at the L&C Towers, the Nashville District and Memphis District commanders interacted with senior leaders from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation; Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development; Tennessee Wildlife and Resources Agency; Tennessee Department of Transportation; Tennessee Department of Agriculture and Tennessee Emergency Management Agency. All signed the partnership agreement.
The agreement stipulates that signatories agree to partner and work together closely on interagency coordination, improved communication, higher quality customer service, and to promote more effective uses of resources.
“It’s important for us to get together and talk about this and how we can fulfill our missions and responsibilities together,” said Robert J. Martineau Jr., TDEC commissioner. “A lot of that is about communication and we’re all trying to provide effective and efficient government service to our tax payers, and part of that is to have good working relationships with other government agencies.”
Col. Vernie L. Reichling, Memphis District commander, shared an overview of his area of responsibility in Western Tennessee and ongoing projects on the Mississippi River and in Memphis, Tenn., following record flooding in 2011. He also echoed the importance of meeting and partnering with Tennessee state officials.
“I concur with the commissioner. It’s all about communication, collaboration, and coordination,” Reichling said. “And the better we can do it the better we can serve the people that we serve.”
Experts from the Nashville District took time during the four-hour meeting to emphasize their willingness to communicate and work issues with their Tennessee state counterparts. Project managers, planners, and construction representatives provided an in-depth overview of planning studies and projects, including ongoing major rehabilitation projects at Wolf Creek Dam in Jamestown, Ky., and Center Hill Dam in Lancaster, Tenn. A regulatory official provided an update, and then hydrology and hydraulic, and water managers provided additional information about modernizing flood maps and prediction systems, and discussed water supply allocation issues.
Lt. Col. James A. DeLapp, Nashville District commander, said today’s environment of lower budgets and the end of earmarks is changing how the Corps of Engineers operates and funds its projects, and the district is balancing the workforce with the workload accordingly. This makes it even more important to forge great relationships and communication with federal and state partners, he said.
DeLapp added that he is also pushing the Nashville District to leverage technology and automation to improve operations and meet the needs of citizens. The Nashville District is working on a new river control center and is developing mobile applications the public can use to check the status of regulatory permits, check water quality, get lake and recreation information, and get the latest district news and updates.
“Things will be changing,” DeLapp said. “I’m pushing our district to get those technologies so that they [citizens] don’t have to log into their computer from home to look and drill down way deep into our website. They can have an app-type environment and get that information that they want to know about.”
Jeff Lewis, district director for Congressman Scott DesJarlais, Tennessee District 4; Teresa Koeberlein, district director for Congressman Diane Black, Tennessee District 6; and Mary Littleton, field representative for Congressman Stephen Fincher, Tennessee District 8; also attended to find out more about the partnership agreement and to report their findings back to the representatives.
Before the meeting adjourned, Reichling encouraged everyone to take part in an online civil works survey that will help the Corps of Engineers understand state agencies’ priorities and discover more ways of partnering together.
“Feedback is essential. Put down what you think. It allows us to address or at least understand what the major issues are,” Reichling said. “And if we don’t understand, then we can’t change. Now, as I look at the Congressional representatives, obviously the corps does whatever the people want it to do. And so in order for some things to change, it may require you to engage with your congressional members, because most of the stuff we do is mandated in some law, somewhere.”
At the end of the meeting, every attendee provided input to the group on what they expect from partnering and their thoughts about spending time as a group to establish working relationships to improve processes.
Shari Meghreblian, Ph.D., TDEC deputy commissioner for the Bureau of Environment, emphasized that the common thread between all of the agencies is recognizing the great water resources across the state of Tennessee and that “we shouldn’t take them for granted.”
Regarding the issue of water, Meghreblian said in Tennessee there can be a flood and a drought at the same time. “So you’ve got too much water, not enough water, not good quality water, and not in the right place, so it’s issues like that … that are so integral to the quality of life and enjoyment in the state. We’re all saying the right things, and the same things. Ultimately, what really matters is what we do. So if we do what we say I think we’re going to be in a good spot.”
Being in a good spot and providing great water resources for the citizens of Tennessee is what the group is seeking to achieve through this partnership agreement.
“Tennessee has been blessed with a wealth of water resources,” said Chuck Head, TDEC senior adviser in the Office of Deputy Commissioner. “Our population is growing. Soon we’ll be 7 million people. Part of the governor’s mission is to make Tennessee the best location in the southeast to locate new business and to expand the existing businesses. Oftentimes that depends not only on safe water, but on adequate water supplies.”
Recognizing that the Corps of Engineers operates the congressionally authorized purposes for the lake projects such as flood risk reduction, hydropower, navigation, recreation and environmental uses in the Cumberland River Watershed, Head said the ability to use the reservoirs as communities’ source of water is going to be a growing issue over time and without water sources the state cannot grow.
Water use issues will take a lot of coordination and communication between agencies, as is prescribed by this partnership agreement.
“We obviously have a couple of big issues,” Martineau said. “We’ve got huge valuable water resources that we need to protect from point source and non-point source, and have the resources to have that water quality meet standards or continue to improve it, so that we can promote and continue to have the quality of life that we have going forward.”
The Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations and Natural Resources Conservation Service were also represented at the meeting.