Association of State Wetland Managers - Protecting the Nation's Wetlands.

Wetlander's Pick of the PostsIn California, Beavers are essential to recovering wild salmon

By Miria Finn – Environmental News Network – March 1, 2015
With California’s wild Coho salmon populations down to 1% of their former numbers, there’s growing evidence that beavers – long reviled as a pest of the waterways – are essential to restore the species, writes Maria Finn. In the process, they raise water tables, recharge aquifers and improve water quality. What’s not to love? For full story, click here.

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View from the blog-o-sphereHouse passes bill to ban EPA ‘secret science’ 

By Timothy Cama and Cristina Marcos – The Hill – March 18, 2015
The House passed a bill Wednesday that aims to increase public scrutiny of the scientific research behind Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations. Passed 241-175, the GOP bill would prohibit the EPA from using so-called “secret science” to justify its rules.  Instead, the EPA would have to make public the details of all the research upon which its rules rely. If a rule’s science isn’t made public, the EPA would not be allowed to write the rule. For full blog post, click here.

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SalameanderBy Peg Bostwick, ASWM

Most state wetland programs managers are familiar with the provision of Clean Water Act §404 which allows a state that has its own dredge and fill permit program to assume responsibility for permitting under §404 as well.    Here’s the specific language (with some highlights added).

The Clean Water Act allows for assumption of the §404 Program by,

“..any State desiring to administer its own …permit program for the discharge of dredged and fill material into the navigable waters (other than those waters that are presently used, or are susceptible to use…as a means to transport interstate or foreign commerce shoreward to their ordinary high water mark, including all waters which are subject to the ebb and flow of the tide…including wetlands adjacent thereto…).”    - CWA §404(g)

Note the limit on waters that may be assumed by a state;  the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must retain authority for tidal waters, as well as other waters used to “transport interstate or foreign commerce” and adjacent wetlands.   Back in 1977 when this language was drafted, this division of responsibility seemed reasonable, since the “traditional navigable waters” regulated by the Corps under Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act were fairly well-defined.  Congress was making provisions allowing a state to assume responsibility for any “other navigable waters”.

kayak32015However, as we now know, any Clean Water Act regulatory language that relies on the term “navigable” is less than crystal clear, especially when wetlands are involved.   As discussed in this blog in October, 2013 (see “Salameander: Navigable, Adjacent, Assumable Waters”)  both decisions of the Supreme Court and subsequent rulemaking on the scope of federal jurisdiction have confused the extent of state assumable waters, as both Oregon and Alaska have learned while in pursuit of §404 program assumption in recent years.   The extent of “adjacent” wetlands – in the context of state assumption – is also unclear.

What is clear is that Congress intended that states have the opportunity to play a significant role protecting waters and wetlands under the (then new) Clean Water Act, while allowing the Corps of Engineers to maintain its authority over waters regulated under the 1899 Rivers and Harbors Act.   ASWM and other entities have urged EPA to clarify the scope of assumable waters, and not to limit the extent of potential state authority.

fedreg032015Fortunately, the EPA heard our concern, and has taken steps to clarify the extent of state assumable waters with public input from an “assumable waters” subcommittee formed under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA).   A Federal Register notice posted on March 16, 2015 requests nominations for this subcommittee.

The charge of the “assumable waters subcommittee” is:

“… to provide advice on how the EPA can best clarify the waters that a state or tribe may assume permitting responsibility for under an approved Clean Water Act dredge and fill permit program. … … Other aspects of state or tribal assumption will not be in scope for the deliberations of this advisory committee.   For example, the subcommittee will not be deliberating on the merits of assumption.”

In other words – and this is important – the subcommittee will not address the definition or scope of federal jurisdiction – only the possible allocation of state and federal responsibility over waters of the U.S. for purposes of §404.   It will be concerned with those problematic terms “navigable” and “adjacent” only in the context of §404(g).

Formally, the “assumable waters subcommittee” will be established under the National Advisory Council for Environmental Policy and Technology (NACEPT) – a standing committee chartered under FACA.   Appointments will be for a two year period, although the initial expectation is that the work of the subcommittee may take from 12 – 16 months.   EPA’s notice indicates that the group may be expected to meet 4 – 6 times, either face-to-face or via teleconference.

Nominations to the subcommittee are due by May 15, 2015 and selections will be made by June 15, 2015.    See the Federal Register notice for qualifications and other details.   ASWM is gratified that this issue will finally be clarified for states and tribes interested in §404 program assumption.   We will be following this issue closely, and will keep you advised.

More:

For the Federal Register Notice regarding formation of the assumable waters subcommittee, click here.

To read the Salameander post of October 2013 – “Navigable, Adjacent, Assumable Waters”, click here.

To read all of Clean Water Act §404(g), click here.
 

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View from the blog-o-sphere FEMA Finalizes New Requirement for State Disaster Plans to Consider Climate Change Impacts

By Becky Hammer – Switchboard NRDC Blog – March 13, 2015
The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced yesterday afternoon a change in its requirements for State Hazard Mitigation Plans that NRDC has been advocating for nearly three years. These plans, which states develop in order to prepare for future natural disasters, must now consider the projected effects of climate change on hazard risks. For full blog post, click here.

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Wetlander's Pick of the PostsWomen’s History Month: Contributions in Environmental and Conservation Fields

EPA Blog – It All Starts with Science – March 9, 2015
March is Women’s History Month, and EPA is marking the event by highlighting the many contributions women have made to the environmental and conservation fields. To help get things rolling, we are sharing advice that EPA women scientists and engineers have for students looking to make their own mark in environmental and conservation history. For full blog post, click here.

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By Jeanne Christie

2015 is the 40th anniversary of the National Wetlands Inventory.  It is one of the largest databases of its kind in the world with over 20 million polygons of individual wetlands in the United States.  It gets over one million website views (@ 2700 per day) each year.  It is easily accessible through google earth and the Fish and Wildlife Service’s wetland mapper.  The National Wetlands Inventory is also part of a number of GIS Services from ESRI ArcGIS Online to the USGS National Map, USGS US Topo, Data.gov and NWI+.

Who uses wetland maps?  What do they use them for?  The Association of State Wetland Managers (ASWM) has explored this topic and identified 24 separate major groups of users in the government, nonprofit and private sector.

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Wetland maps have many applications by states and other parties for making decisions that affect people, wildlife populations, and overall aquatic health.  Some of these are obvious and others are not.  ASWM has documented the various ways that wetland maps are used specifically by states (just one of the 24 major user groups identified) and this information is available here.  State uses range from wildlife and habitat conservation and wetland restoration and real estate and permitting decisions to storm surge and sea level rise analysis and transportation and agricultural planning.

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But the decisions made are only as good as the data used to make them.  Maps that were made decades ago don’t reflect changes.  They don’t identify where wetlands have been lost or where they have been restored by programs such as the North American Waterfowl Management Plan or the Wetlands Reserve Program.  They don’t show how areas like the Louisiana coast are giving way to the sea.  And that is a serious problem for the National Wetlands Inventory users groups.  The great majority of maps were made using imagery from the 1970’s and 1980’s.

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The United States is a big country and it is reasonable to expect that in some places there has been little change in the past 30 or 40 years.  But in other places there has been enormous change not only in wetlands, but in other landscape features such as forests, farmlands, urban areas, coastlines and more.

In recent years, budget cuts, competing priorities, sequestration and other factors have led the U.S. government to reduce its investments in updating many of its mapping products and one of these is the National Wetlands Inventory.  People that are concerned, but have little direct experience with wetland mapping, will ask if it can be automated, done more cheaply or done by another party such as the states, foundations, or the private sector.  The answer to the first question is no, there is no way that has been identified to automate wetland mapping so it can be done solely by a computer.  The answer to the second is that other parties are doing some work in areas around the country, but it is spotty, not always done consistent with the National Wetlands Inventory requirements, and at current funding levels, the National Wetlands Inventory staff are not even able to keep up with the work needed to add those few maps that are being completed.

The ASWM hosts regular webinars for the Wetland Mapping Consortium and the purpose of the consortium is to explore questions like these as well as ways to improve accuracy and usefulness of wetland maps, share new applications and so on.  It is possible to view all of the webinars held on these topics from 2012 to today here.  Anyone can join the consortium simply by signing up for a future webinar here.

Inaccurate maps can lead to poor decisions that increase costs at the private, local, state, and federal level. But an increase in investment in wetland mapping will only occur if the many parties that use the maps communicate to decision-makers – those who control budgets – that it makes sense to invest resources to create more accurate wetland maps to save both money and essential natural resources now and in the future.

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Wetlander's Pick of the PostsWhy Do We Measure Wetlands Loss In Football Fields?

By Jesse Hardman – WWNO – March 3, 2015
What happens when you combine the most popular sport in the U.S. with one of the most dire environmental situations in the country? The catchy analogy that a football field sized piece of Louisiana coastal wetlands is lost every half-hour. 110 million people tuned in to the 2014 Super Bowl. Sandwiched between $4 million commercials from Budweiser, Chrysler and Doritos was something a little less expected, but certainly football related. The America’s Wetland Foundation paid for a commercial about coastal wetlands degradation that began: “An American treasure is being lost. Louisiana loses a football field of land every hour to coastal erosion.” For full story, click here.

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View from the blog-o-sphereIs the Environment a Moral Cause? 

By Robb Willer – The New York Times – Opinion – February 27, 2015
According to a recent poll, a large majority of Americans, and roughly half of Republicans, say they support governmental action to address global warming. The poll, conducted by The New York Times, Stanford and the research organization Resources for the Future, stands in stark contrast to the vast partisan gulf in political efforts to address climate change. How could it be that so many Republicans view global warming as a problem, but so few on the right are pressuring the government to take action to address it? For full opinion, click here.

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by Brenda Zollitsch

Here in Maine and across the Northeast we are in a “wait and see” pattern about how all recentsnow3615-1the current snow will melt.  In Portland, Maine we have more than 90 inches of snow so far this year, much of it still sitting on the sides of roads, frozen in place.  Although it seems that this has been the winter that will not end, indeed at some point all this snow is going to start to melt.  The snowmelt water will be chock full of chlorides, as well as sand, petroleum products, pet waste that was never properly disposed of, and other pollutants.  This water will drip from roofs, run across roads and parking lots and other impervious surfaces to find its way into the nearest stormdrain.  Many people don’t know that storm drains carry these polluted waters directly to local water bodies, without treatment.

Impervious cover/surface refers to “anything that water cannot penetrate. Ranging from residential rooftops, patios and driveways to town roads, public build¬ings, commercial structures and parking lots, impervious cover prevents rain and snow from soaking into the ground” (Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management).  If the level of stream030615-2impervious cover rises too high in these areas, the pollution that results can cause irreversible damage to drinking water quality, to groundwater supply-ing private wells, and to aquatic wildlife habitat.  According to studies conducted and reviewed by the Center for Watershed Protection, as impervious cover rises above 10% if the landscape there is almost always a measurable loss in water quality. Between 10% and 25% these impacts increase, and pollution and flooding are both evident. Above 25% impervious cover, water quality impacts can be so severe that it may not be possible to restore water quality to pre-existing conditions.

Most efforts to combat stormwater pollution are based on trying to reduce pollutants, prevent spills and remove illicit discharges.  Some part of this work also focuses on what is known in the stormwater world as “post-construction” measures (EPA NPDES Stormwater Management Post-Construction Minimum Control Measure.  These practices look at an alternative method of controlling stormwater, which focuses on increasing infiltration of water onsite.  This approach mimics pre-development hydrology.  Constructed or natural infrastructure are used to absorb, store (at least for a limited time) and filter water onsite.

streetside0306015-3Here is where the conversation opens a door for greater collaboration between stormwater and wetland managers.  Stormwater managers frequently think about addressing the problem of impervious through the use of tree box planters, pervious pavement, rain gardens, and green roofs.  In some areas of the country, large projects expand integration to include the use of constructed wetlands.  However, there is limited consideration nationwide about preserving, restoring and creating natural wetlands as a way to improve onsite infiltration and storage in critical areas where stormwater runoff habitually creates management challenges.

Across the nation, wetland loss continues.  Although some of this loss has little connection to the areas where stormwater management concerns are the most pressing, wetlands and riparian corridors do have an impact on other areas and play a critical role on predevelopment landscapes that are now urban.  Especially in areas where imperviousness has not yet exceeded 10%, nonstructural techniques such as riparian buffers, wetland restoration and upland forest retention have been found to be more effective at ameliorating the impacts of impervious surfaces than structural management practices.

protwet3615-4Various strategies to reduce impervious surfaces and their impacts on water resources can be applied to community planning, site-level planning and design, land use regulation and both stormwater and wetland management.  Efforts that wetland and stormwater managers can collaboratively promote include, but are not limited to:

  • Wetland preservation, restoration and creation to provide natural infrastructure that retains clean stormwater onsite;
  • Conservation of critical wetland habitats and the water sources that restore and retain them;
  • Protection and stewardship of wetland buffers;
  • Consideration of impervious cover when reviewing Section 404/401 wetland permits and certifications; and
  • The use of tools such as impervious cover TMDLs to encourage restoration of wetlands and other aquatic resources that can positively impact impaired streams by reducing pollution and slowing runoff velocity. (Example: Maine’s Impervious Cover Total Maximum Daily Load Assessment (TMDL) for Impaired Streams)

As we better understand the critical role that impervious surface plays in aquatic resource impairments, it is beneficial to consider the use of natural infrastructure or combinations of natural and constructed infrastructure to treat waters onsite before they pick up pollutants and enter our waterways.  There are many resources available to learn more about the impact of imperviousness on water quality.

For more information, please check out the following resources:

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View from the blog-o-sphereCalling an end to the search for ‘big ideas’

By Fred Pearch – CGIAR – December 5, 2015
Timing is everything.  And Michael Hobbes, an old aid hand and human rights consultant, got the timing spot on with his recent blog at The New Republic on how “big ideas are destroying international development”. As the international aid community labours hard to deliver a set of the biggest of all big ideas – the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), due to be laid before the UN next year – he argues that this is just about the worst way of doing good. For full blog post, click here.

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