Who We Are

The Ecosystem Restoration Planning Center of Expertise (ECO-PCX) is based in the Mississippi Valley Division with a virtual team from across the nation that provides ecosystem restoration planning services to district Project Delivery Teams (PDTs) throughout USACE.

The ECO-PCX is one of the six-designated national Planning Centers of Expertise. PCXs were established by Congress in Section 936 of the Water resources Development Act of 1986 to maintain a strong planning program. Other PCXs include Coastal Storm Risk Management, Flood Risk Management, Inland Navigation, Deep Draft Navigation and Small Boat Harbors sub-center, and Water Management and Reallocation.

                    For internal USACE employees, CLICK HERE for your ECO-PCX Points of Contact


Collapse All Expand All
 What We Do

The PCXs strengthen planner core competencies by assisting district Project Delivery Team (PDTs) with technical expertise, peer reviews, model certifications, technology transfer, planner training and providing lessons learned and best practices to the larger Planning Community of Practice (CoP). The following roles and responsibilities apply to all PCX:



 PCX Roles and Responsibilities

The PCXs strengthen planner core competencies by assisting district Project Delivery Team (PDTs) with technical expertise, peer reviews, model certifications, technology transfer, planner training and providing lessons learned and best practices to the larger Planning Community of Practice (CoP). The following roles and responsibilities apply to all PCXs:

1. Technical Services. The ECO-PCX provides technical services to District PDTs by providing subject matter experts on Civil Works planning and policy, ecosystem restoration planning, ecological modeling, environmental compliance, mitigation planning, and various other expertise based on the ECO-PCX team's composition. Besides supporting District PDTs, the ECO-PCX serves as ecosystem restoration experts and can provide advice to Major Subordinate Commands (MSCs), Headquarters USACE, USACE laboratories, Institute for Water Resources (IWR), and the HQ Planning Advisory Board (PAB). 

2. Peer Review. The ECO-PCX assists and manages Agency Technical Review (ATR). The ECO-PCX can function as the Review Management Organization (RMO). Typically, the ECO-PCX is the RMO for General Investigation studies and for Independent External Peer Review (IEPR) in the feasibility phase. During IEPR, the ECO-PCX interfaces with the external organization performing the review and the District PDT. The ECO-PCX can serve as the RMO on other studies pending discussion with the MSC.

3. Research & Development. The ECO-PCX Operating Director is a voting member for the Environmental Research Area Review Group (ERARG). The ERARG plays a key role in informing the direction of the research conducted under the Ecosystem Management and Restoration Research Program (EMRRP). Additional ECO-PCX members assist in identifying Research and Development (R&D) priorities within the mission area and leverage R&D across mission areas.

4. Training. The ECO-PCX develops, conducts, and shares relevant training opportunities related to aquatic ecosystem restoration to promote and maintain and planning technical competency, share knowledge, and promote communication within the Community of Practice (CoP). The ECO-PCX is the lead for the USACE Planning Associates Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration course. in addition, the ECO-PCX offers various courses and mini training vignettes that are available for all USACE planners, and can be found to internal USACE planners HERE.

5. Model Review and Certification. The ECO-PCX certifies or approves for use the planning models identified in the Project Review Plans. The ECO-PCX Model Review Manager assists teams with planning model identification, selection, and development, if needed. The ECO-PCX account managers and model review manager can help District PDTs navigate the model review process too.

All certified and approved models and documentation can be found in the
Ecological Model Library

Have a question on the model review process? Check out the Frequently Asked Questions
If you still have questions, don't hesitate to reach out to the ECO-PCX Ecological Model Review Manager

6. Policy Development Support. The ECO-PCX supplements HQUSACE and MSC staff in policy compliance review, if requested, on a reimbursable basis, on projects where the center has had no prior participation. The ECO-PCX can also aid with HQ policy and guidance development, reviewing draft policy, and exporting policy training to the field.

7. Process Improvement. The ECO-PCX seeks to develop standard processes and procedures related to the ecosystem restoration mission area to support District execution. The ECO-PCX also supports Corps-wide process improvement initiatives through their subject matter experts' participation on process improvement teams.

8. Lessons Learned. The ECO-PCX shares knowledge and promotes communication within the Planning Community of Practice (PCoP) through internal communications, monthly newsletters, workshops, technology transfer, Planning Community Toolbox, and internal USACE planners can learn more HERE.

 A Brief History

In 2003, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers established the National Ecosystem Planning Center of Expertise (ECO-PCX) to support ecosystem restoration project planning. The ECO-PCX performs independent project reviews, technical training, expert planning support, and model development and review for teams across the 38 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers districts.

The timeline below highlights key actions related to the history of the ECO-PCX.

  • 2002 - The National Academy of Sciences releases “Review Procedures for Water Resources Planning”. This report called for the establishment of independent review at multiple levels and utilizing talent from national centers of expertise.
  • 2003 - U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Headquarters established Planning Centers of Expertise for major mission areas (flood risk management, hurricane and coastal storm damage, deep draft navigation, inland navigation, and ecosystem restoration).
  • 2006 - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Director of Civil Works issues a memo re-emphasizing the importance of the Planning Centers of Expertise. The memo calls for using the centers in the conduct of independent reviews.
  • 2007 - Congress passes the Water Resources Development Act of 2007 that codifies the establishment of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Planning Centers of Expertise.
  • 2008 - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Director of Civil Works issues a memo listing the roles and responsibilities of the planning centers. The eight areas identified in the memo form the core set of duties carried out today by the ECO-PCX.
  • 2011 - The circular establishes the process and the requirements for assuming the quality of planning models. Guidance for assuring the quality of Planning models contained in EC 1105-2-412 (expiration March 31, 2013) remains in effect per this Planning Bulletin 2013-02 until permanent Planning models guidance is issued.
  • 2018 - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Director of Civil Works issues a memo delegating the certification of models to the Directors of the Planning Centers of Expertise and the assignment of subject matter experts for the model review team to the Office of Water Project Review.
 Ecological Models


The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers uses ecological models:

•    To understand complex ecological interactions
•    To quantify impacts/benefits of project features
•    To quantify mitigation requirements
•    To forecast future conditions and inform project design
•    To help inform decision-makers

Conceptual Ecological Models

Conceptual Ecological Models help tell the story of "how the system works." They represent simple depictions of relationships.

Conceptual Ecological Models should be developed for ALL aquatic ecosystem restoration studies per Policy Guidance on Certification of Ecosystem Output Models memo.

Conceptual Ecological Models do not require model approval or certification, but they are reviewed for technical accuracy during Agency Technical Review.

To learn more: The Application of Conceptual Models to Ecosystem Restoration (Fischenich, 2008)

Model Categories

     There are several categories used to describe planning models:

Certified - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers developed, reviewed and approved the planning model for regional or nationwide application in accordance with documented geographic range, nation-wide application in accordance with documented best practices and its designated limitations. 

In Review – The planning model is under review and not available for current use.

Approved for use - The planning model is presently approved for regional or nationwide use in accordance with documented geographic range, best practices, and its designed limitations. 

Approved for single use - The planning model is approved for use on one project. It has not not been approved for regional or nationwide application.

Not approved – The planning model has not been reviewed and/or certified for use in Planning decisions

The Model Certification process:

The following is a step-by-step description of the process used to certify ecological models used by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during planning.

     1. The model developer or end user (Proponent) initiates consultation with the ECO-PCX Model Review Manager.  

     2. The Proponent works with ECO-PCX to identify potentially applicable models, engage the ERDC Ecological Modeling Team as appropriate.. 

     3. The ECO-PCX  Model Review Manager will work with the Proponent to establish a framework for coordinating the receipt of model documentation, development of the model certification/approval           plan and determining the appropriate level of funding for these actions.

     4. The ECO-PCX Model Review Manager develops the Model Review Plan to manage and scope the independent review of the model.

     5. The ECO-PCX Model Review Managers assembles the Model Review Team, a team of subject matter experts, as outlined in the Model Review Plan. 

     6. The ECO-PCX Model Review Manager sets up a Kickoff Meeting.  This meeting includes representatives of the ECO-PCX, the Proponent, model developers and the Model Review Team to assure all              parties understand the scope and the approach for review of the models.

     7. The Model Review Team evaluates the model documentation package provided by the Proponent to ensure the model is technically sound, computationally correct, usable for Civil Works planning            and policy compliant.

     8. The Model Review Team meets with the ECO-PCX Model Review Manager, model developers and Proponent to discuss review comments and recommendations. 

     9. Based on the review comments, the ECO-PCX Model Review Manager will identify actions or modifications the Proponent needs to undertake in order to gain a recommendation for approval.  The             ECO-PCX Model Review Manager will close-out the review when it determines identified issues have been resolved. 

     10. ECO-PCX Model Review Manager compiles a model approval or certification recommendation package for the ECO-PCX Operating Director.  

     11. The Operating Director of the ECO-PCX reviews the model recommendation package and recommends model approval or model certification under one of the designated authorities to the                          ECO-PCX Director.

     12. The ECO-PCX Director reviews the model recommendation package. If the Director agrees with the recommendation, a memo is signed documenting the approval/certification.  

     13. The ECO-PCX Operating Director distributes the model approval/certification memo by email to the ECO-PCX Model Review Manager, the home MSC and the Project Delivery Team.

     14. The ECO-PCX Model Review Manager uploads the model and all relevant documentation onto the ECO-PCX Model Library.

 Model Review and Certification FAQs

When do I engage the ECO-PCX on model review requirements?

As soon as possible! The Review Plan should include all models the PDT may potentially use in the study. Prior to the Alternatives Milestone, a conceptual model of the system should be drafted and firm list of ecological models be used for the study. The list of models should be coordinated with the ECO-PCX to ensure models selected are appropriate for use. This review/coordination should be completed prior to using the model in the decision-making.

What is the USACE Policy on Ecological Models?

Any planning model used by USACE to support decision-making must be certified to assure quality. EC 1105-2-412, Assuring Quality of Planning Models establishes the process and requirements for assuring quality of planning models. Director of Civil Works (DCW) Memo 4 Dec 2017, Modification of the Model Certification Process and Delegation of Model Approval for Use and DCW Memo 11 May 2018, Delegation of Model Certification modified the EC related to delegation. EC 1105-2-412 remains in effect until permanent planning model guidance is issued.

Do I need to use a conceptual ecological model for my ecosystem restoration study?

YES! The use and review of conceptual models is adopted per DCW Mr. Stockton Memo 2008 Policy Guidance on Certification of Ecosystem Output Models.

Where do I find ecological models?

The  ecological model library is located here: https://ecolibrary.planusace.us/#/home. You can search like habitat, species or model name. You can also reach out to the ECO-PCX Model Review Manager or your ECO-PCX MSC account manager for assistance in selection, application, review and certification process too.

If I need help with building a new model, where can I go to learn more?

The ECO-PCX along with the ERDC Ecological Modeling Team work together as a dynamic duo to help teams with this process. The ERDC EcoMod team can also assist PDTs through facilitated modeling workshops. To learn more, contact the EcoMod Team at ecomodteam@usace.army.mil and visit their website EcoModTeam.

Model Building Recipe for Success: ECO-PCX + ERDC + YOU = AWESOME!

I plan to use an existing approved/certified model, do I need the spreadsheet calculator I create be reviewed?

YES! All spreadsheet calculators created need to be reviewed for quality assurance and approved for use by the ECO-PCX. This should be done before the spreadsheet calculator is used in decision-making.

Do CAP studies require use of an approved/certified model?

Under CAP, model review/approval is slightly different. Per EP 1105-2-58, Continuing Authorities Program, the use of certified planning models is not required. However, MSC Commanders remain responsible for assuring the quality of the analyses used in these projects.

How long does it take for a model to be certified?

It depends on the complexity of the model... but a typical timeline for a model review and approval is three to six months. This includes time review to scope the review, identify reviewers, review, respond to comments and routing for endorsement and approval for use by the ECO-PCX Director. 

How can a model review be delayed?

Typically, incomplete model documentation delays the start of a review. Engage the ECO-PCX Model Review Manager to ensure all documentation requirements are included prior to submittal for review. Other delays happen during response to comments and funding lapses for PDT members, reviewers, and/or model proponent.

What is the difference between single one-time use approval regional model certification?

The review process is basically the same. Single one-time use approval is sufficient if the model only will ever need to be used for a given study. However, if it is anticipated the model will be used again on a different study in a broader region, then the regional model certification may be more efficient in the long-term for future work.

How much does model certification cost?

The costs varies based on the complexity of the model.  Costs for model review have been anywhere from $10K to $65K depending on review scope and method. The ECO-PCX Model Review Manager can help PDTs scope the effort and develop an estimate for the review.

During a SMART Planning Study, when should a model be approved/certified?

Model review and certification should be done prior to a decision being made. Typically, during a SMART Planning study this is prior to the Tentatively Selected Plan (TSP) milestone. So be sure to engage the ECO-PCX early in the study to avoid schedule issues later.

Once a model is approved/certified, can I use it forever? 

No.  Models are approved/certified for seven years and will require re-approval after expiration. 

How are certified models adjusted when new scientific findings contradict or otherwise change the variables currently used in a certain model?

The ECO-PCX has a formal reevaluation process in place for model re-approval and recertification, which must take place a minimum of every seven years. In cases where new scientific evidence requires reassessment of a model before the seven-year period expires, the ECO-PCX uses the same reevaluation process to consider the original certification rationale, review the new information and determine how it changes the components of the existing model and recertify the model, as appropriate.

Is there a requirement to use scientific literature-based sources in model development and documentation, or can model certification rely solely on expert professional judgement?

The basis of evidence for certifying models ranges widely. Models for rare species or habitat types may be primarily based on expert professional judgement and experience in the field given the sparsity or complete lack of literature or date, and therefore are documented to the best of the PCX's ability. While the citation of at least some peer reviewed literature is preferred for all model certification, it is sometimes impossible. When this is the case, the ECO-PCX documents uncertainties and potential complications related to the lack of date to ensure these issues are clearly outlines.

Is it more difficult or time consuming to approve models developed by state agencies vs. models developed by USACE?

Models developed by state agencies are not necessarily harder to approve than models developed by USACE, but the effort and time required depends on how robust and well-documented the model is when it gets to USACE. Some models with detailed documentation that have already been peer reviewed move fairly quickly through the process, while others that are still indraft form and that lack an active point of contact at the submitting agency are much more difficult to review and approve.

Additionally, some models developed by others have parameters that are not USACE policy compliant. For example, some mitigation models developed by other federal agencies include a discount rate and risk factor. USACE does not discount habitat units per agency policy, and risk is accounted for in our monitoring and adaptive management requirements.

Do Districts typically collaborate with their resource agency partners (i.e., U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service) when developing their ecological planning models ?

As best practices continue to be shared widely, the ECO-PCX is seeing increased coordination between Districts and their resource agency partners on model development and certification. The resource agencies are typically enthusiastic about getting involved in the model development process and sharing their expertise. They bring helpful field experience and peer review skills to the table that can improve model quality and make the certification process easier.

What happens if I don't get the model I use certified?

HQ and the ATRT will notify the PDT that you have not complied with the EC's and you will be directed to stop and conduct model review before you proceed.

What happens if my model review is conducted and the model is not certified?

If the review is conducted and significant issues arise that you cannot resolve through model modifications, you will be asked to assess the significance of the comments on the planning decision and how they effect your selection and the vertical team will work with the PDT to resolve the issue.


 Key Documents List

The USACE Planning Toolbox houses the most up-to-date resources, planning guidance and policies related to USACE Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration Mission.

Check it out HERE