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

For Peats Sake LogoBy Marla J. Stelk, Policy Analyst, ASWM

Blah blah blah. Wah wah wah wah wah (imagine the voice of Charlie Brown’s mother). Do you ever feel that way, too? I am overwhelmed almost daily by the avalanche of information that is sent my way and I find myself challenged with trying to sort out what is really important. Often I find myself tuning out either consciously or unconsciously.  Why is this? Am I some sort of narcissist that only appreciates the sound of my own voice?  I hope not.  I’ve given trainings on improving listening skills so I’d be a pretty big flunky if that were the case.

commblogmarla22615-1Rather, I think it comes from an information overload. And I don’t think I’m alone in this. Our ability to communicate in various ways through electronic media – be it television, radio, websites, Facebook, LinkedIn, discussion boards, Twitter (or “the Twittah” as we say in Maine), etc. – has exploded at such an exponential rate that I often feel like just dismissing all of it because it’s too much to digest. It’s easy to just hit “delete” on most emails that seem unimportant or skip over any postings on social media that do not interest me. It’s easy to ignore what I don’t want to know. But then I risk missing out on the information I want to know about.

But it’s not just an issue of too much information that is the problem with electronic media. When you don’t have to look your audience in the face, it takes away the personal connection we have to the visual impact of our words on others.  We can’t see their immediate reaction so we feel less responsibility for our actions.  When we’re not immersed in a personal face-to-face communication, it’s easy to embellish or twist the truth to meet our own agenda or egos. And it’s also easy to misinterpret other people’s intentions.

How do we make communication interesting and meaningful without creating additional information overload? How do we gain the public’s trust and provide useful, tenable and relevant information to them? And how do we navigate through the immense amount of articles and reports available to keep up with the latest scientific findings?

Certainly digital media is a powerful force and a great way to reach an incredibly large audience in an incredibly short amount of time. But we have a responsibility to provide truthful and honest information. At ASWM, part of our mission statement says that we were established to “promote the application of sound science to wetland management efforts.” This means that we strive to provide objective information based on science in order to support rational and balanced policy and practice decisions.

commblogmarla22615-2I believe we can accomplish this by bridging professional silos, integrating programs, and having intelligent and thoughtful discussions with others involved in natural resource issues. I know that for myself, I am making an effort to use the good old telephone again more often. I have personally gotten to rely primarily on email for most of my communications, but I am finding it to be less and less useful. With so much spam, junk mail and marketing, I almost feel guilty clogging up someone’s email account with more stuff. And I know I’ll get a faster response and build better relationships if I just pick up the phone and engage someone in actual dialogue.

How can we build public trust and get our message heard? Through personal communication, collaboration and meeting folks face-to-face. Take the time to meet your stakeholders. Listen to people’s concerns before formulating your response. Be kind and respectful. Certainly electronic media has a place in any organization’s communication plan, but equally important is live, personal (but professional) communication.

I look forward to ASWM’s annual state/tribal/federal workshop each year because it provides me the opportunity to make those personal connections to folks working all over the country in various agencies with various responsibilities.  We all come from different walks of life and have many different perspectives and opinions on many issues, but we all come together, even for just a day or two, and we learn from each other by finding common ground in wetland protection. So For Peat’s Sake, let’s try for a more personal touch in our communications by listening, conversing, and taking the time to shake hands. Who knows what the ripple effect may be!








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Wetlander's Pick of the PostsRamsar Convention takes Mexico’s example to protect wetlands worldwide

Contact: Jatziri Pérez – World Wildlife Fund – February 19, 2015
The 48th Meeting of the Ramsar Standing Committee approved the resolution submitted by the Mexican government supported by the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) to ensure wetlands ecosystems water needs worldwide.  The resolution states a call for global action to protect and guarantee water for Wetlands of International Importance recognized by the Ramsar Convention. The resolution also proposes to elaborate a worldwide action plan that includes strategies and tools to define and assign water resource to wetlands in a national or regional scope. For full story, click here.

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View from the blog-o-sphereStorm Water Management Model Gets Climate Update

By Marguerite Huber – EPA Blog – It All Starts with Science – February 13, 2015
EPA researchers are developing strategies and resources to help city planners, managers, and others address stormwater runoff problems, including those related to impervious surfaces and combined sewer overflows. One powerful tool available is the Stormwater Management Model, also known by its acronym, “SWMM.” EPA’s Storm Water Management Model is a publically-available rainfall-runoff simulation model that provides a suite of information about urban water patterns. It is used for planning, analysis, and design related to stormwater runoff, combined sewers, sanitary sewers, and other drainage systems in urban areas, and is the basis for the National Stormwater Calculator.
For full blog post, click here.

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SalameanderBy Peg Bostwick, ASWM

On April 21, 2014  the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Corps of Engineers issued an Interpretive Rule regarding the exemption of certain agricultural conservation practices under §404 of the Clean Water Act.  An associated MOA among the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the EPA, and the Corps of Engineers defined the seemingly straightforward purpose of the rule as clarifying “the applicability of the exemption from permitting… …to NRCS conservation practice standards designed and implemented to protect and enhance water quality”.   Although the interpretive rule had immediate effect, the federal agencies also requested comments on the list of practices specified as being exempted.

Eight months later, on January 29, 2015, the same agencies withdrew the rule following broad and atypically uniform opposition, in spite of limited support from some parties.   For many involved in federal wetland policy, the question is what now?

21915peg1The interpretive rule was, I think, a well-intentioned attempt to increase understanding of the §404 exemptions, to facilitate the work of the agricultural community, and to reduce the charges of regulatory overkill that are so often leveled at the regulatory agencies.   In at least a couple of states – with some significant work by state and local staff – it almost achieved those goals.  In most of the country, however, it failed at least in part because the responsible agencies simply did not account for the precarious balance that has developed at the state and local level among regulators, permit applicants, those whose work is largely exempted from §404 permit requirements (primarily farmers and foresters) along with water resource advocates, and an array of state, federal and local agencies.

Checks and balances are an integral component of our nation’s rules and regulations, and our government as a whole.   People don’t like rules, but accept them as necessary if their overall interests are taken into account.  With water and wetlands – natural resources where virtually every citizen and all levels of government have an interest – that balancing act is tricky indeed.   If it is done well, you might say it is a thing of beauty.

And we have – ever since the 1972 Clean Water Act set these issues in motion – achieved a reasonable balance most of the time.  No, don’t laugh.  In most states with active wetland programs, most permit applications are processed smoothly and efficiently, and most wetlands are protected to a degree.  And most of the legal battles involve the edges of things – the “end” of a stream, or the edge of a wetland that may be connected to that stream.  Edges are tricky – there is often a lot going on there physically, chemically, and biologically, and also legally and socially.  Obviously, our management of water resources is still evolving, especially as we respond to new scientific knowledge, shifting social pressures, and enormous destabilizing factors on the level of global climate change.  There is much we can do better.  However, the central need to protect wetlands and their benefits is actually very well established and accepted.

Down on the ground, an enormous number of agencies and organizations – it must be well into the thousands at the local level – have found a way to knit together federal, state, tribal and local wetland permit requirements; have figured out how to make things work given local geography and biology, local land use concerns, local water issues, local social organization, and local attitudes.  Just as politics are local, that is also where you get your jeans wet and your boots muddy when it comes to wetlands and water management.  Not surprisingly, a number of the groups executing this balancing act have made the point that certain parts of the federal law are a little fuzzy.

The interpretive rule must have seemed so straightforward when planned, being based on an existing list of agricultural conservation practices, and existing 404 exemptions. But the rule appeared to topple many of the existing checks and balances and processes at the state and local level that are routinely used to address exempt, or near-exempt agricultural activities.  The NRCS list included actions often implemented away from agricultural operations, and others with the potential for damage in some locations.  And to many farmers, the rule appeared to put a thumb on the legal scale that shifted that balance in favor of the regulators, rather than providing relief.

The exemption of certain actions under §404 is not an issue; setting boundaries is.  We still need to work on those tricky edges, and the need is perhaps greater than ever – not only for food producers, but for those faced with management of water resources to manage increasingly intense storms on one hand, drought on the other, and a massive range of water quality and habitat issues in between.   How can we take steps to recognize the best intentions of the interpretive rule without once again losing our balance?

It seems to this writer that our next best opportunity to do so may be through the Corps of Engineers Nationwide General Permit (NWP) process, given that the existing set of Nationwides must be replaced by March 18, 2017.   The Nationwide GP’s are not perfect – in fact a number of states have negotiated with the Corps to replace them with a State Programmatic General Permit (SPGP), or a regional general permit (RGP), tailored to meet state and local legal and biological needs.  But this points precisely to why the NWP process works as well as it does: it established baseline national standards, but incorporates checks and balances for other federal programs (e.g. floodplains, endangered species) and also for state and tribal programs (e.g. through §401 water quality certification, Coastal Zone consistency determination).  And it provides for the alternative development of state specific criteria and procedures, including regional or state programmatic general permits to meet those needs.  National consistency for core requirements is a fine idea, because it can protect the interest of both upstream and downstream states and individual citizens.  However, an overzealous concentration on national consistency without the needed degree of (local) flexibility may not be the best idea in a nation as large and socially/geographically diverse as ours

We now have about 2 years to cooperate with one another and the Corps to develop and refine general permit categories to meet our collective and locally specific needs.  NWP’s allow for a range of options:

  • Non-reporting authorization for activities that may – while not clearly exempt under CWA – clearly have minimal impact in some geographic areas (with appropriate local conditions);
  • Categories for specific states, tribes, or regions in RGPs or SPGPs;
  • State or tribal certification of a NWP category based on inclusion of locally needed criteria or conditions;
  • Provisions for a streamlined review and signoff of relatively minor activities where site-specific concerns must be evaluated – such as screening for drinking water impacts or presence of listed species;
  • Local agreements among regulatory agencies to clarify roles and responsibilities of each in working with the public.

In spite of these options, the definition of general permits and their conditions is never easy.  We would be well-advised to begin work now to prepare for 2017.  Balance, after all, requires careful coordination.

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View from the blog-o-sphereStanford on Verge of Momentous Dam Decision

By Steve Rothert – American Rivers – February 13, 2015
After 15 years of pushing by American Rivers and partners such as Beyond Searsville Dam (BSD), Stanford University could finally start taking responsibility for the harm its water system causes to endangered steelhead trout and local streams. For over 100 years, Stanford has operated multiple dams and diversions in the San Francisquito Creek watershed to supply water to its golf course and campus landscaping. The dams have blocked endangered steelhead trout from reaching over 25 miles of historic spawning habitat and have dried up the creeks downstream.  Even though Stanford no longer needs these dams for water supply, they have been reluctant to eliminate their impacts.  That is about to change.  For full blog post, click here.

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Wetlander's Pick of the PostsHow protecting our coastlines could save taxpayers billions

By Shannon Cunniff – Environmental Defense Fund – February 11, 2015
How do we save millions (and perhaps billions) in federal tax dollars – while at the same time giving flood-prone coastal communities a more secure future? A little-noticed, Jan. 30 White House executive order could be part of the answer. For full blog post, click here.

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By Jeanne Christie

The main office of the Association of State Wetland Managers is located in Maine – about 15 miles inland from Portland.  As I write this, snow totals locally are around 85 inches for the year.  There is a blizzard forecast for Saturday and another major storm is headed for our area on Wednesday.  Over the past week or two whenever we talk to folks in other parts of the country, they ask about the weather – the snowfall in particular.  So I thought I’d share some images of what it looks like around here.

Another Winter StormLakefront Property
Winter WeedBuried River
Blizzard WearRun Dog Run
Winter FloodplainTrout Stream in Winter
Hibernating BeesSnow Tracks
Winter MoonJeanne Christie Office

This week Scientists announced that the universe has no beginning.  As I look out on the deep expanses of snow I reflect on the fact that I am looking at millions of unique individual snowflakes.  Like the universe, the possibilities here on planet earth are endless.

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Wetlander's Pick of the PostsCan We Reverse Engineer the Environment?

By Donovan Hohn – The New York Times Magazine – February 6, 2015
Across the top of the map, above the Arctic’s Mer Glaciale, there floats a banner inscribed with a legend that in translation reads “New Discovery of Many Nations in New France in the years 1673 and 1674.”…The map was hand-drawn by the explorer Louis Joliet… Geologically speaking, what the French explorers discovered at the southern tip of Lake Michigan was a low point on the subcontinental divide that for thousands of years had separated the Mississippi Basin from the Great Lakes. Joliet, although he didn’t know it, was proposing to reconnect them… “It would only be necessary,” he suggested, “to make a canal.” This suggestion would eventually alter the history of the continent, as well as its ecology. We are still reckoning with the consequences in 2015. For full article, click here.

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View from the blog-o-sphereWetlands do triple duty to protect people and the environment

By Rebecca Shaw – Environmental Defense Fund– February 2, 2015
Beyond their beauty, wetlands provide countless services on which wildlife, coastal communities and the world at large depend. They protect us from storms, filter our drinking water, protect wildlife and even help sequester carbon. World Wetlands Day serves as a reminder to all of us that these precious areas need better protection. For full blog post, click here.


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by Brenda Zollitsch

Over the last year, the Association of State Wetland Managers (ASWM) and its partners have opened a dialog about wetlands and stormwater management with the well-documented understanding that stormwater pollution frequently flows into wetlands in ways that can threaten ecosystem health.  EPA defines stormwater as “runoff that occurs when precipitation from rain or snowmelt flows over the ground.”  Stormwater can pick up debris, chemicals, dirt, and other pollutants and flow into a storm sewer system or directly into a waterbody, including wetlands.  brenda25151Sediment can destroy aquatic habitats. Excess nutrients lead to algal blooms. Bacteria and pathogens can degrade wetlands. Debris can injure or kill wildlife. Household hazardous wastes can pollute water and poison aquatic life.

The costs of stormwater runoff across the United States are extremely high. Costs included are those associated with flooding, public infrastructure and private property damage, degradation of water quality (both clean-up and protecting from contamination), loss of fish and wildlife habitat, loss of recreation opportunities, and closure of shellfish harvest areas and other marine resources.  Costs are born at the municipal, state and federal level.  By many, stormwater is seen as an intractable problem with an unsustainable price tag….including costs from impacts to wetlands.

When I first started writing about stormwater and wetlands here at ASWM, I received several emails that expressed deep concern about even opening this conversation.  The argument – wetlands should be protected from stormwater at all cost.  ASWM agrees wholeheartedly that wetlands need protection from stormwater.  While we are exploring opportunities for wetlands as part of integrated management techniques (in keeping with the work underway around the country such as the Staten Island Bluebelt), we are seeking to better understand how to protect natural wetlands from stormwater pollution.  Stormwater runoff flows into wetlands whether or not we channel it there.  Consequently, part of this national dialogue needs to focus on ways we can protect wetlands from stormwater.

While some wetlands are in within EPA-designated Urbanized Areas (UAs) and subject to National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Stormwater Phase I and II regulations, the vast majority of wetlands fall outside of these areas.   Wetland managers at all levels of government can benefit from the knowledge gained by working to protect urban water resources from stormwater runoff.   In our current study of state wetland programs across the United States, we have identified only limited integration between state wetland and stormwater programs in a few states.  Additional investigation on stormwater here at ASWM has indicated there is a decided disconnect between wetland and stormwater managers around the language, technical background and justifications for this work.

Understanding what can be done to protect wetlands from stormwater within the existing framework of stormwater management efforts is a good starting point. Each of the practices listed below are within the ongoing vernacular and management toolbox of stormwater managers.  We share the following potential practices as an opening discussion point.  The vast majority of stormwater management work occurs at the municipal/local level.  For this reason, I lead with examples of municipal practices or projects that states can encourage through their wetland and water resources programs:

Examples of Municipal-level Practices to Reduce Stormwater Runoff to Wetlands:

  • brenda2515-2Encourage soil stabilization near wetlands or areas that drain to wetlands, including on construction sites
  • Conduct illicit discharge inspections for all outfalls to wetlands
  • Restrict discharges of untreated stormwater into natural wetlands
  • brenda2515-3Work with planners to install swales instead of curbs and gutters along streets
  • Incorporate wetlands into watershed and stormwater education projects
  • Post signs to identify wetlands, buffers and wetland drainage areas
  • Stencil storm drains that lead to wetlands with “No dumping, drains to wetland”
  • Enforce no dumping rules for wetlands and buffers
  • Conduct wetland, stream and roadway clean-ups that keep trash out of wetlands
  • Strictly enforce thresholds that trigger erosion and sediment control plans in areas that drain to wetlands
  • Employ best management practices that reduce chloride runoff  to wetlands from municipal snow and ice control activities
  • Encourage low impact development (LID) and green infrastructure that reduces runoff quantity
  • Require septic system inspections and repairs
  • Allocate municipal stormwater utility funds to support activities that reduce stormwater impacts to wetlands

 Examples of State-level Practices to Reduce Stormwater Runoff to Wetlands:

  • brenda2515-4Include consideration of wetlands in stormwater planning projects
  • Strengthen construction rules at the state-level to limit impacts to wetlands from construction site runoff
  • Restrict discharges of untreated stormwater into natural wetlands
  • Enforce existing erosion and sediment control in wetland areas and areas that drain to wetlands
  • Increase erosion and sediment control requirements for the rainy season
  • Develop/strengthen existing dumping rules for wetlands and their buffers
  • Work with state planners and restoration experts to restore pre-development hydrology in areas near wetlands
  • Facilitate regular communication and planning between wetland and stormwater managers
  • Coordinate permit review  between wetland and water quality programs
  • brenda2515-5Promote low impact development (LID) and green infrastructure to reduce runoff into wetlands
  • Incentivize the replanting of open or turf areas  and site designs that protect wetlands from runoff
  • Support the use of 319 funds to reduce stormwater runoff to wetlands through planning and restoration projects
  • Develop buffer protections around wetland areas and increase buffer widths to protect downstream wetlands
  • Encourage minimization of the number of wetland crossings in construction site designs
  • Include wetland protection in floodplain planning and requirements
  • Encourage the reduction of lawn care chemicals and pet waste entering watersheds that drain to wetlands

As we continue to address the growing challenges of stormwater pollution, wetland managers and advocates should be thinking about ways to apply effective best practices for reducing stormwater impacts in ways that protect and improve wetland health.  Finding common languages and practices to start the conversation is critical to promoting integration.  We would love to hear other ways you have seen integration occurring in ways that protect wetlands from runoff and any lessons learned!

For more information about stormwater impacts and wetlands, check out the following resources:

To learn more about stormwater pollution, click here.

To watch a video about stormwater runoff, click here.

Protecting Natural Wetlands from Stormwater, click here.

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