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BYU professor to lead national environmental advisory board for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Rollin Hotchkiss, chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Brigham Young University, has been appointed as the committee chair for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Environmental Advisory Board.

The Environmental Advisory Board (EAB), formed in 1970, was created as a means of providing outside, expert and independent counsel regarding environmental issues to the United States Army Corps of Engineers. The board itself consists of ten civilians from across the nation who report to the Chief of the Corps of Engineers, and are experts in the field of environmental engineering and restoration.

Hotchkiss has been a member of this board for nearly two years, and was recently appointed as the committee chair for the EAB. While this position is both highly respected and admired, due to the classified nature of this position, it is also relatively unknown by non-military personnel.

“To serve on this board is a singular thing, there’s only one in the world,” Hotchkiss said. “For us as citizens we don’t know what a big deal this is, but in the (Army) Corps of Engineers we’re treated with the highest respect because of our position right next to the Chief.”

Currently the EAB members, as well as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, have been told by Congress that environmental restoration is their highest priority. In the past their priorities have been to provide flood control as well as navigation and transportation. Through the accomplishment of those goals, however, there have been detrimental impacts on the environment.

“Now that we have the benefits of flood control and navigation, the Corps has been told to address any environmental impacts that have occurred as a result of past efforts,” Hotchkiss said.

At the highest level, the EAB provides input on what are known as Environmental Operating Principles (EOP). With every project that the Corps considers, whether it is a new or maintenance project, the Corps ensures that it complies with EOP.

A recent position paper by the EAB about “Environmental Flows” looks at the 400+ dams in the Corps inventory and questions how they can alter the water flows as to more closely mimic a natural river and restore many of the environmental benefits that the river once had.  The EAB recommendations are being actively pursued by the Corps.

Members of the EAB are eminent authorities in the fields of natural sciences and engineering.. According to Hotchkiss, his qualifications paired with his previous dedicated service to the EAB are what led to his peers nominating him as the board’s chair.

EAB Members are selected based on a number of criteria. Hotchkiss himself was selected due to his background in engineering, as well as his experience with the operations of dams and environmental restoration, which meshed with the Corps’ current priorities.

“It’s an honor to serve with such distinguished committee members on matters that make a difference in our nation,” Hotchkiss said.

Writer: Neil Davies

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