Our nation’s economy relies on a supply of abundant clean water.  That means we need both clean water and a lot of it.  Dirty, polluted water is expensive.  But often, not to the polluter.  If laws are not in place to hold polluters accountable, then the public at large must bear the cost – either to clean the water up, or to suffer the health consequences that result from exposure to polluted water.  And that’s just people.  Polluted water also affects wildlife, ecosystems, and the web of life that we also depend on.

It was early last fall that the release of  “Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters:  A Review and Synthesis of the Scientific  Evidence” signaled the intention of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ to promulgate a rule to revise Clean Water Act jurisdiction.  Since then, there has been a great deal of press about the proposed rule.  Many of these stories have focused on public pronouncements by various elected officials and interest groups of support or criticism (mostly criticism) for the proposed rule.  Largely absent from the discussion has been thoughtful reporting on what is happening to streams, rivers, lakes, wetland and estuaries, and the ability, or lack thereof, of the Clean Water Act to support clean water given current uncertainties over jurisdiction.

Let’s not forget that the Clean Water Act is triggered when there is pollution.  A retraction of Clean Water Act jurisdiction has occurred since the  SWANCC and Carabel/Rapanos Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 respectively.  The current jurisdiction rule reflects jurisdiction BEFORE these decisions.  The purpose of the proposed rule is to formalize the narrowing of jurisdiction.   Wetlands are the resources that are most at risk as a result of the Supreme Court decision, in particular wetlands not adjacent to navigable waters that must meet the significant nexus test.  That is, it must be determined that the wetland has a substantial impact on navigable waters.  It has been that way since 2001.  It remains that way for wetlands outside floodplains under the proposed rule. And it is a very difficult test to meet.

But current challenges to protecting and improving water quality – providing clean water – go far beyond the removal of protection from millions of acres of wetlands.  There are significant problems for other waters.  A 2009 report by EPA determined that over half the Nation’s rivers do not support healthy populations of aquatic life, largely due to the presence of excess levels of nitrogen and phosphorus (click here). This year’s ‘Dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico is expected to be the size of Connecticut (click here). The infrastructure that is used to treat water for human consumption is nearing the end of its useful life (click here) and so are the sewage treatment systems that carry wastewater from residences and businesses for
treatment before discharging to streams and rivers
click here)
In addition, according to a recent Government Accounting Office report, most states anticipate water shortages will occur in the coming years (click here).

Plus, the federal government is collecting less and less information about where water is and what’s happening to it.  Stream gauges have been eliminated (click here), the National Wetland Inventory staff have been reduced to a skeleton crew and other sources of water data such as NOAA’s ocean and other data collecting  systems are annually at risk for cuts in funding.   This has profound implications for anticipating problems and areas most at risk during both floods, hurricanes, and droughts.

The states are well aware of these problems, because they bear the responsibility of dealing with these issues as well.  Between 2005 and 2008 state environmental spending increased as federal spending declined (click here). This occurred as regulations written by EPA have increased as the agency tried to keep pace with threats to the nation’s waters.  Simultaneously Congress has cut funding to EPA which in turn cuts funding to state water programs. This leads to more pollution.  The volume of contaminants removed from U.S. waters was cut in half – from 11.8 billion pounds in 2010 to 4.4 billion pounds in 2012 (click here). Current debate about the EPA budget for next year in Congress includes proposals for further cuts (click here).

The acrimonious debate of the proposed Clean Water Act jurisdiction rule is not so much a reflection of the merits or lack thereof of the proposed rule as it is a tragic symptom of the inability of our Nation’s  elected leaders to create a coherent national policy for both regulating and financing the protection of the nation’s waters.  Waters that are a precious and essential resource for all.

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Wetlander's Pick of the PostsThe River Geronimo Knew

By Tana Kappel – Conservancy Talk – July 7, 2014
Not all is doom and gloom on the Arizona-Mexico border. There’s a place where tranquility reigns, where ruddy ducks and great blue herons share reflective waters, where pools harbor leopard frogs and native Yaqui fish. Tall cottonwoods and dense thickets of willow provide nesting sites for raptors and migrating birds, and cover for bobcats, Gila monsters and other wildlife. It’s hard to believe that only a decade ago, this wetland oasis did not exist. For full blog post, click here.

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View from the blog-o-sphereI’ll Trade You: Water Quality Science Edition

By Marguerite Huber – EPA Blog – It All Starts With Science – July 10, 2014
The outcome of a trade can sometimes be the luck of the draw. You may not have gotten a better sandwich for the one you traded at lunch, or the all-star pitcher your team acquired in that mid-season trade may turn out to be a bust. On the other hand, the best kind of trade is one where everybody wins. EPA researchers are helping bring just that kind of trade to improve water quality. Chesapeake Bay is an expansive watershed that encompasses some or all of six states and the District of Columbia. High levels ofnutrients flowing in from all over that expansive watershed decrease oxygen in the water and kill aquatic life, creating chronic and well-known dead zones. To help, EPA established the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), which sets a cap on nutrient and sediment emissions to restore water quality, ensure high quality habitats for aquatic organisms, and protect and sustain fisheries, recreation and other important Bay activities. For full blog post, click here.

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Salameanderby Peg Bostwick, ASWM

Have you ever been attracted to a plant or animal just because of its name?  I was recently introduced (via print – I have yet to make personal acquaintance) to a pair of tiny emerald dragonflies: the Ebony Boghaunter (Williamsoniafletcheri) and its cousin the Ringed Boghaunter (Williamsonialintneri).   BOGHAUNTER!  How wonderfully descriptive.   Responding in the same way that I do to the irresistible title of a novel, I found myself reading about these tiny creatures.   And now, when I read about climate change and peatlands, I am the one who is haunted by the boghaunters.

These diminutive (1.5 inch) and relatively uncommon dragonflies are also inconspicuous; they are neither large nor showy, and emerge as adults in May to spend only a couple of months in flight.  Their range includes isolated areas of the northeastern U.S. and southern Canada, typically in sphagnum pools surrounded by upland or wetland woods.  The associated forest habitat is considered essential for roosting, hunting, and mating. While not federally listed, these insects are considered rare or endangered in some states.

According to the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, the primary threats to boghaunters are habitat destruction and pollution. Alteration of bog hydrology can destroy habitat, but so can loss of surrounding forests.  And because bogs are inherently sensitive to changes in nutrient levels, pollution from urban or rural runoff can also be damaging.  Another critical pollutant source in urban areas may be the use of chemicals to control mosquitoes.

Of course, climate change may also have an adverse effect on this northern habitat in the long term. In a peatland, preservation to protect the bog from physical and chemical impacts can also mitigate for climate change impacts by maintaining carbon storage.  Drainage of peatlands will result in significant release of carbon as organic matter is oxidized.

Restoration of peatland hydrology in previously drained areas can allow carbon sequestration to resume, while increasing resiliency for the specialized plants and animals that reside in the bog.

The exceptional ability of peatlands to sequester carbon is commonly recognized.  A recent article in the National Wetland Newsletter (Jan-Feb 2014) reports on a Fish and Wildlife Service collaboration with other stakeholders to provide increased biological carbon sequestration through restoration of peatlands in the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina.  As pointed out in this article, forested peatlands cover only 3% of the world’s land area, but contain twice the carbon stock of all forest biomass worldwide.  While the Pocosin Lakes refuge is outside of the range of boghaunters, the same theories apply to their northern habitat. Additional research is needed to fully quantify greenhouse gas benefits, but with this knowledge it is anticipated that peatland restoration throughout the U.S. could potentially be supported by carbon trading markets in the future.

Thus an inch long dragonfly stitchesone more tinylink in the intricate tapestry being woven by natural habitat, humanity’s management of land and water, and a changing climate.  The fate of these insects touches our own, since as so often happens actions that protect the habitat of the little boghaunters will also benefit us -maintaining or increasing carbon sequestration.  We may hope that the iridescent wings and shining green eyes of the boghaunters continue to grace northern sphagnum pools for many decades, and not haunt us in the future only a ghostly form.

More reading:

Sara Ward and Scott Settelmyer.  Carbon Sequestration Benefits of Peatland Restoration: Attracting New Partners to Restore National Wildlife Refuge Habitats.   National Wetlands Newsletter, January-February 2014.

Fact sheet from the Massachusetts Natural Heritage Endangered Species Programs on the Ebony Boghaunter:  click here

Fact sheet from the Wisconsin Department of Natural resources on the Ringed Boghaunter:  click here.

Ringed Boghaunter species profile from the University of New Hampshire:  click here

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View from the blog-o-sphereLife on the Mississippi: Tale of the Lost River Shrimp

By Paul Greenberg – Environmental 360 – June 24, 2014
“Ninety percent of science is zeros.” This piece of Southern wisdom was delivered to me out on an expanse of big flat Mark Twain Mississippi River water near Vicksburg, Mississippi. The biologist Paul Hartfield had just piloted his secondhand skiff that his under-funded division of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had procured to a little eddy behind a snag of old trees that the river had whipped out of its pathway. With the boat secured, he used a grappling hook to claim a buoy in the water that was tethered to a rope and in turn tethered to a wire mesh trap which had been baited with a can of cat food. Lifting the trap out of water he cracked it open and found … nothing. For full story,
click here.

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Wetlander's Pick of the PostsWorthwhile trade-off

By Laura Rance – Manitoba Cooperator – June 30, 2014
New drainage and water management initiatives announced earlier this month will make it easier for Manitoba farmers to drain low spots in their fields, but harder — much harder — to convert wetlands into annual crop production. It may seem like a nuanced distinction and it will undoubtedly make many in the farming community nervous — especially since the penalties for undertaking unapproved drainage will also become stiffer. For full story,
click here.

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by Brenda Zollitsch

I have been working in the area of water resource policy and management for two decades and specifically on reducing the impacts of stormwater pollution for the last eleven years.  At ASWM, among my many other projects, I am currently Cape May, New Jersey Wetlandsworking to identify states where stormwater management considerations are being integrated into the management of wetlands and, conversely, where the protection and restoration of natural wetlands are effectively being integrated into stormwater management planning.

ASWM is looking for models where these two areas are joined effectively and for lessons learned by states and other entities trying to integrate the two.  Over the last six months, I have been speaking with people both on the wetland side and the stormwater side of policy and management.  And with remarkable frequency the response to the idea of integrating wetlands and stormwater management is – “Sounds good in theory, but it just doesn’t work.”  This does not mean that there are no states doing this integration work well or extensively.  There are.   But it does beg the question – “Why is it so hard for many resource managers to think about ‘stormwater’ and ‘wetland protection’ together?”

Percolation Trench Designed to Treat Stormwater RunoffIn my discussions, stormwater folks do see the connections between runoff and streams, lakes, rivers, and the ocean, but much less frequently, wetlands.  If there is discussion about wetlands, it is usually of the manmade kind.  Lots of stormwater managers in New England and elsewhere around the country are excited by the findings of the New Hampshire Stormwater Center, which has shown that in many cases gravel wetlands are far more effective at capturing and treating stormwater than engineered mechanisms, detention ponds or other solutions.  The “Oooh – Aaah Factor” allows the words “wetland” and “stormwater” to exist in cautious harmony.  But when the conversation turns to natural wetlands, access to examples and optimism seems harder to find.

Conversations with a growing number of state wetland managers also indicate at least some level of disconnect.  Wetland managers and scientists understand that water runs into their wetlands carrying pollutants.  They are extremely concerned about the impacts of stormwater pollution on ecosystem health, just as other water resource managers are.  Yet, when I have spoken with wetland folks about whether they have connections between the management of both programs the response is often, “no” or “not really.”   It is not that they don’t care about this issue, it is more that they don’t know where to start and consequently don’t.

Some initial justifications I have heard for this disconnect during my conversations about this topic include:

  • Vernal PoolRegulator “silos” create a potentially insurmountable regulatory separation of wetlands from stormwater management;
  • Lack of understanding about the other field’s science and regulations;
  • Scientific uncertainties about the impacts of stormwater on wetlands and vice versa; and
  • A critical lack of best practices to address interrelated impacts and opportunities.

Some specific concerns from the two different perspectives include:

Wetland Manager/Professional ConcernsStormwater Manager/Engineer Concerns
Concern that identifying connections and opportunities will lead to wetlands becoming a sink for stormwater pollutantsConcern that wetlands are not as predictable (and consequently reliable) as engineered solutions; Hard to document input –output relationships
Wetland systems and services should be kept entirely naturalStormwater systems are more predictable and cost-effective when they are engineered
The value of a wetland is priceless, not worth risking compromising one by talking about itThe cost of potential non-compliance is too high; not worth the time to talk about it
Fear of resource degradationFear of liability and regulatory fines

The problem is that water runs downhill and stormwater is impacting natural wetlands regardless of whether or not it is being discussed. ASWM’s conversations have just started, so it is our hope that further exploration will find examples of effective ways to both manage stormwater and protect natural wetlands.   In the
Pennsylvania Wetland Restoration Projectmeantime, it is important to note that many of the perspectives above universally overlook the potential for other activities that connect wetlands and stormwater – opportunities for joint mapping projects, shared data and data management, joint input developing or revising municipal ordinances, pollution prevention planning, land use planning activities, and public outreach campaigns, to name a few.  As I have written previously, a connection between stormwater and wetlands does not have to mean a pipe.

Examples of three states that seem to be moving towards finding effective (and very different) ways to connect the dots are Pennsylvania, West Virginia and New York.

  • Conversations with Ken Murin from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection reveal that Pennsylvania has a joint permitting process for wetland impacts and stormwater.  The programs use the same data, the same forms, and the same staff.
  • In West Virginia, wetland and stream mitigation programs are taking a look at allowing low impact development (LID) associated with stormwater pollution prevention to be included as allowable mitigation activities.
  • New York’s extensive Staten Island Bluebelt Project is a fully integrated project focused on joint management of stormwater and wetlands.

ASWM will be exploring these relationships more closely over the coming year, pointing state wetland managers and stormwater managers alike to case studies of joint management.

As part of a project to summarize state wetland programs over the next six months, ASWM will be actively seeking to document examples of states where this boundary is either actively being crossed on an ongoing basis or where there are plans to cross it. There is no convenient separation of stormwater from wetlands, whether regulatory mechanisms recognize it or not.  Let us know if you are aware of states where these connections are being made successfully either at the regulatory level or through state-supported voluntary programs.

Brenda Zollitsch, Policy Analyst The Wetland Wanderer, ASWM’s Policy Analyst Brenda Zollitsch, will be connecting with wetland program managers in each state over the coming six months. She will be asking specific questions about these connections and welcomes information from anyone making joint efforts in the areas of wetland and stormwater management across the U.S.

Brenda can be reached at (207) 892-3399 or Brenda@aswm.org.

Posted in pollution prevention, resource management, stormwater, wetland program management, wetlands | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Wetlander's Pick of the PostsNew Trout Unlimited report documents importance of small streams to clean water and fishing in America

Angling Trade – June 30, 2014
A new report from Trout Unlimited details the importance of small seasonal streams across America to the overall health of the country’s rivers, its fish and fishing opportunity, and it asks anglers to take action to protect these waters by contacting their members of Congress and telling lawmakers to keep the Clean Water Act intact. Rising to the Challenge: How Anglers Can Respond to Threats to Fishing in America is a brief report and a call to action for all who fish in the United States. Trout Unlimited scientists mapped how small streams influence historic native trout and salmon habitat in 16 states. Legislation in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate would halt a rulemaking process that would restore protections to small “intermittent and ephemeral” headwater streams under the Clean Water Act. For full article
, click here. To download the report, click here.

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View from the blog-o-sphereFiscal conservatives should love wetlands

By David Jenkins and Steve Ellis – The Hill Blog – June 2, 2014
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently announced a proposal to clarify the scope of the Clean Water Act with respect to wetlands and other key watershed features. It has instantly met with howls of opposition by development interests, property rights groups, the American Farm Bureau, and a number of lawmakers. For full blog post,
click here.

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Warmth has at long last reached southern Maine. The memories of a long cold winter linger, however, and this past week the local newspaper ran a story on a current run on firewood in anticipation of next year. We’re ahead of the trend since we generally order firewood two years ahead of time. Ours is already stacked and ready for the coming winter season under a large and remarkably ugly grey tent. Another newspaper article during the winter alerted my husband to the enhanced efficiency and improved air
quality achieved by burning dry wood versus wet wood. Initially he proposed to build something a little more aesthetically pleasing, but he learned that any permanent structure above a certain size required a pricey architectural drawing with the application. Hence the ugly and enormous grey tent. However, I anticipate the chipmunks, snakes, mice, and other small animals that winter over in the woodpile will be very happy with the new arrangement.

Welcome to summer!

Jeanne Christie
Executive Director

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