Water Resources:

Problems in Managing Disposal of Material Dredged From San Francisco Bay

RCED-90-18: Published: Nov 8, 1989. Publicly Released: Nov 17, 1989.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed Corps of Engineers and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) efforts to designate new disposal sites for dredged material in the San Francisco Bay area and ensure that environmental damage at existing ocean and bay disposal sites was within acceptable limits.

GAO found that: (1) the Corps has not designated needed disposal sites because it has not completed required environmental studies; (2) the Corps delayed the studies because EPA found that the Corps' 1988 feasibility study made questionable assumptions about safety in deciding not to study potential disposal sites beyond the continental shelf and included cost estimates generated by a model that had a mathematical error and several questionable factors; (3) the Corps agreed to reevaluate the geographic area for consideration, and the ocean site designation process was scheduled for completion by December 1991; (4) the delays caused the Corps to defer two projects scheduled to start in fiscal year 1988, which, according to the Corps, postponed $31.1 million in economic benefits; (5) problems existed in biological testing guidance, the Corps' quality assurance program, inspections, and monitoring efforts, indicating that the agencies did not have adequate assurance that environmental damage at existing ocean and bay disposal sites was within acceptable levels; (6) the agencies planned to issue revised testing guidance for ocean disposal by the end of calendar year 1989; and (7) the Corps was developing a management plan, to be completed in June 1992, for dredging and disposal operations which would detail inspection, surveillance, and monitoring programs.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To prevent future delays in the process for designating ocean disposal sites, the Secretary of the Army should direct the Chief, Corps of Engineers, to: (1) evaluate alternative mechanisms for ensuring the safety of disposal operations on and off the continental shelf; and (2) review and validate the model used as the basis for cost estimates.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Zone of Siting Feasibility report, released in March 1991, included safety and monitoring among operational considerations addressed. It recommended that disposal be limited to periods of certain wave heights and intervals. All identified constraints were surmountable by existing technology and should not prohibit ocean disposal in any areas being considered.

    Recommendation: To ensure that disposal in the ocean or bay is limited to safe material, the Administrator, EPA, and the Secretary of the Army should reach agreement on, and issue revised guidance for, the biological testing needed to predict the toxicity of contaminated dredged material.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The February 1991 revised testing manual, "Evaluation of Dredged Material Proposed for Ocean Disposal," is being used by EPA regions and Corps districts.

    Recommendation: To ensure that disposal in the ocean or bay is limited to safe material, the Administrator, EPA, and the Secretary of the Army should reach agreement on, and issue revised guidance for, the biological testing needed to predict the toxicity of contaminated dredged material.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The revised manual includes the following substantive changes to procedures: (1) an amphipod test species required as the national standard for whole sediment bioassays to ensure programmatic consistency; and (2) exposure time for bioaccumulation tests, where certain contaminants are present, was increased from 10 to 28 days.

    Recommendation: To ensure that environmental damage is within acceptable levels, the Secretary of the Army should direct the Chief, Corps of Engineers, to: (1) regularly inspect laboratories that test sediment for the Corps, expand inspections to include biological testing, and implement procedures to ensure that permittees use qualified laboratories; (2) systematically inspect permitted dredging activities and perform surveillance of disposal sites when they are being used; and (3) develop and implement monitoring programs for bay disposal sites.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: A technical report addressing the need for inspections, biological testing, and procedures to ensure permittees use of qualified labs was published in September 1990. Inspections of permitted dredging activities are being conducted.

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