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

Wetlander's Pick of the Posts Ten Tips to Give Frogs a Landing Pad

By Anne Bolen – National Wildlife Federation – March 12, 2015
Frogs are vital to the food web, serving as natural bug zappers and as food for many predators, from raptors to raccoons. They are also important bioindicators that help us determine the health of our environment,” says Kerry Kriger, founder of Save The Frogs, an NWF partner. “We have a lot to learn from them.” Indeed, about a third of the world’s some 7,000 amphibian species are at risk of extinction, struggling to combat pesticides, pollution, diseases such as deadly chytrid funguses, competition with introduced species and, in particular, habitat decline. One 2014 paper by the Institute for Land, Water and Society published in Marine and Freshwater Research estimates that at least 64 percent of the world’s wetlands—vital for amphibian breeding and feeding—have disappeared since 1900, overtaken by agriculture and development. For full article, click here.

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View from the blog-o-sphere Ancient Traditions Revitalize Sierra Watersheds; Increase Water

By Patricia McBroom – The California Spigot – May 4, 2015
In the mountains above Fresno, a slim, beautiful wild plum has taken root in a newly cleared meadow. No one planted the tree. It simply sprouted on its own, once the overgrowth was pushed out by Native Americans working to revitalize the forest.  The blooming presence of this sapling stands as testimony to what can be done to not only restore a meadow but to thin the forest and thereby bring more water down from the Sierra Nevada mountain range. For full blog post, click here.

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

We live in a very interesting time. On one hand, we are experiencing extreme precipitation events that are producing massive amounts of water and thereby causing devastating floods in the country’s interior. Sea levels are rising and hurricanes are increasing in intensity, causing damaging floods along our coasts. water52814-1And yet, at the same time, the western states are facing an increasing severity of droughts and wildfires and our inland water bodies are dying a slow death from algal blooms. So some states have no water, and in the states where we have an abundance of water, much of it is unpotable.

Duke Energy in North Carolina, the country’s largest electricity company, pled guilty to violating the Clean Water Act this month and contaminating clean drinking water wells with toxic heavy metals from coal ash.  They are supplying residents with bottled water until it gets cleaned up – and it is not their first incident. Just last year they spilled 82,000 gallons of ash into the Dan River. In West Virginia last year, Freedom Industries had a disastrous chemical spill in Elk River just upstream from a drinking water intake that serves 300,000 people. And in Toledo, Ohio last year there were drinking water bans due to toxic levels of microcystin produced by algal blooms around Western Lake Erie due primarily to agricultural practices. Even water that goes through water treatment plants has been found to be laden with pharmaceuticals. And these are just the clean water crises that made the biggest headlines.

water2052815According to the Groundwater Foundation, more than 50% of the people in the U.S. rely on groundwater for their drinking water supply.  American Rivers reports that 65% of people in the U.S. get their drinking water from rivers and streams. And according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), of the 357,404 total miles of streams in the continental U.S. that provide drinking water for 117 million Americans, 58% of them are intermittent, ephemeral or headwater streams – in other words streams that do not flow year round.

Wetlands are most often found at the interface of where water bodies, such as rivers and streams, connect to the land and their unique position on the landscape positions them strategically to filter out contaminants that often flow into our drinking water sources.  Many of these wetlands and streams have not been protected since the scope of the Clean Water Act was narrowed more than a decade ago by two U.S. Supreme Court cases, SWANCC in 2001 and Rapanos in 2006. These two cases also created a lot of confusion regarding how to determine Federal jurisdiction over our nation’s waters.  Interestingly, after achieving “no net loss” and even a modest net gain in wetland acres nationally from 1998-2004, annual wetland losses increased between 2004-2009.

To provide better clarity regarding Federal jurisdiction, what is included in the definition of “waters of the U.S.” and to better protect our nation’s water resources, the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) developed the proposed Clean Water Rule. While the final rule provides greater clarity, it also formally recognizes that millions of acres of wetlands are no longer protected under the Clean Water Act unless a case by case significant nexus to traditionally navigable waters can be established.  This is a consequence of the SWANCC and Carabell/Rapanos Supreme Court decisions that is only now being incorporated into the regulatory definition of waters of the U.S.  The existing definition has been incorrect for over a decade.   In reaction to the proposed Clean Water Rule (which was just released as the final Clean Water Rule this week), the U. S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate have proposed legislation to require EPA and the Corps to abandon the new rule and start over.  In addition, the bill in the Senate (S.1140) would significantly reduce the waters currently and historically protected under the Clean Water Act.  The Senate bill would remove  Clean Water Act  protections from virtually all wetlands as well as many rivers and streams which are critical for clean water provision, flood water absorption, and groundwater recharge among many other beneficial functions.

water852815For example, one of the provisions of the Senate bill (S.1140) would require the use of the National Hydrography Dataset Plus at the 1:100,000 scale from Reach Address Database Version 3.1 to determine whether or not a particular reach of a stream is protected under the   Clean Water Act. This is a coarse resolution dataset that generally only captures stream reaches that are longer than a mile.

To give you an idea of how the requirement to use this map would limit jurisdiction, take a look at the map to the right.  It is a map of perennial and intermittent streams.  The lines in white show perennial and intermittent streams that were mapped using NHD Plus. The lines in black are perennial and intermittent streams that were mapped using LiDAR (LiDAR is a remote sensing technology that generates “precise, three-dimensional information about the shape of the Earth and its surface characteristics.” – NOAA).

You can see that many streams are not covered by the NHD 1:100,000 scale and therefore would not be protected by the Clean Water Act if S.1140 became law. The map above also illustrates the connectivity of intermittent and headwater streams to primary stream systems. Whatever happens upstream impacts the quality and quantity of waters downstream. Science clearly shows that these systems are all connected physically, biologically and chemically. The Clean Water Act was written to protect the physical, biological and chemical integrity of our nation’s waters.

States have the ability to develop more comprehensive protections for waters left out of Federal jurisdiction.  However, historically they have often been encouraged by members of the regulated public and their own state laws to implement their water programs consistent with Federal law.  The Environmental Law Institute published a 50 state summary in 2013 in which they found that 36 states “have laws that could restrict the authority of state agencies or localities to regulate waters left unprotected by the water5052815federal Clean Water Act.”  In some states this might merely mean that state environmental agencies are required to explain to their state legislature why they are protecting areas not protected under Federal law.  But in other states such as Idaho and South Dakota, the state is prohibited under state law from protecting waters in the state unless the Federal government does so as well.

Amid all of this activity, I can’t help but be reminded of the ancient mariner in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s epic poem as he lamented, “water, water, every where, nor any drop to drink.” So for Peats’ Sake, let’s let science inform policy, and let’s work together to protect our incredibly important water resources.

Posted in Clean Water Act, rulemaking, streams, water quality, wetlands | Tagged , | Leave a comment

View from the blog-o-sphere Why should every American care about the California drought?

By Sara Larsen – American Rivers – May 21, 2015
I was talking about this over FaceTime with my Mom in New Jersey. She mentioned that the drought “out there” seems bad. Yes, it is, I said. And then I had a thought: Why should Americans who don’t live in the West care? The fact is, California grows more than a third of the nation’s vegetables and almost two-thirds of its fruits and nuts. The drought’s bearing on agricultural production will most likely cause a nation-wide ripple effect on food prices, with Americans all over the country seeing their grocery store receipts inch up in cost. For full blog post, click here.

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Wetlander's Pick of the Posts Shot and gassed: Thousands of protected birds killed annually

By Rachael Bale and Tom Knudson – Reveal News – May 13, 2015
Every spring, bird-watchers from across America gather in Nebraska for one of the continent’s great avian spectacles – the mass migration of sandhill cranes through an hourglass-like passage along the Platte River. But some several hundred miles northeast in Wisconsin and Michigan, sandhill cranes are met with a different reception: They are shot dead by farmers or their hired guns under a little-known federal program that allows for the killing of birds protected by one of this nation’s bedrock conservation laws, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.For full story, click here.

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Guest Blog by William J. Mitsch Ph.D

In a report just issued for discussion at a global wetland meeting scheduled for early June in Uruguay, Gardner et al. (2015) gave an astonishing fact that global wetlands are estimated to have declined by 64 to 71 % in the 20th century alone and that this degradation rate continues.  As pointed out in our most recent edition of the book “Wetlands, 5th ed.” (Mitsch and Gosselink, 2015):  “The rate at which wetlands are being lost on a global scale is only now becoming clear, in part with the use of new technologies associated with satellite imagery. But there are still many vast areas of wetlands where accurate records have not been kept, and many wetlands in the world were drained centuries ago…It is probably safe to assume that (1) we are still losing wetlands at a fairly rapid rate globally, particularly in developing countries; and (2) we have lost half or more of the world’s original wetlands.”

In a paper cited in the above report and book, Davidson (2014) determined that the world lost 53.5 percent of its wetlands “long-term” (i.e. multi-century) with higher loss rates in inland vs. coastal wetlands (60.8 vs. 46.4 percent respectively). He also found out that the wetland rate of loss in the 20th –early 21st centuries was 3.7 times faster than the long-term loss rate.

wetlandsmitschIn the USA, we have sound estimates that we lost about half of the wetlands in the lower 48 states equivalent from the 1780s to the 1980s.  That translated to an enormous loss rate of 236,000 hectares (580,000 acres) per year of wetlands for almost 2 centuries!  Even from the 1970s to the mid 1980s, we were losing over 100,000 hectares (260,000 acres) per year.  In stepped the Federal courts’ interpretation of the Clean Water Act to include wetlands as “waters of the United States” and the loss rate plummeted to about 5,600 hectares (14,000 acres) per year in the latest assessment issued a few years ago.  We have not yet achieved the national goal of “no net loss” that has been the formal policy of the USA for 30 years, but we are getting close and are much better off than most of the rest of the world in conserving the wetlands that are left.

But the legal means that we use in the USA to protect wetlands will not work in the rest of the world where land is needed for food production and living space for a growing world population. That makes slowing the global loss of wetlands that much more problematic. Rather we have to educate the world on the values of wetland ecosystems for the services that they provide for us including cleaning our water, supporting our biodiversity, mitigating our floods and coastal storms, and sequestering more carbon per unit area than any other ecosystems on the planet. In almost every comparison that has been done, the economic value of natural wetlands is at the top of the list.

I will be going to that meeting in Uruguay and will probe the validity of these world wetland trend estimates, but if the facts are even close to the ones I cite above, we need to sound an international alarm that “enough is enough.”  Please join me by forwarding this message around to any social or professional groups that you link with so that the alarm can be heard world-wide.

References

Davidson, N.C. 2014

Gardner, R.C. et al. 2015

Mitsch and Gosselink, 2015, Wetlands, 5th ed

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Wetlander's Pick of the PostsMeaningful steps toward clean water take decades

By Tom Horton – My Eastern Shore MD – May 3, 2105
The Chesapeake Bay just got an important “win,” with Maryland’s agreement to end the spreading of poultry manure across sections of its Eastern Shore. Everyone should be happy about that. But no one should be satisfied. We could have had this win a decade ago. Understanding why we didn’t is important for ensuring the current agreement works. For full opinion, click here.

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View from the blog-o-sphereAll quacked up for wetlands

By Russell Bassett – Environment America – May 5, 2015
Without wetlands, ducks would be, well, sitting ducks. All of North America’s duck and goose species depend on wetland habitats for breeding, rearing, and/or for resting and foraging along their migratory flyways. For full blog post, click here.

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by Brenda Zollitsch

Thanks to the support of the Association of State Wetland Managers (ASWM) and the Switzer Foundation, I was able to attend the National Adaptation Forum in St. Louis, Missouri this week.  This was a chance to meet with invested people who are working on the same environmental, social and economic issues that I am and led to a wonderful cascade of linkages and opportunities.  My shockingly heavy carry-on nationaladaptationforum51515-6suitcase (just ask the airline worker who took it from me for planeside check) returned home full of useful just-released reports from leading researchers and organizations and laden with potential.

naf51515-10I am most appreciative of EcoAdapt, who coordinated the Forum, for giving all of us the opportunity to learn from each other and compare ideas, as well as inspire each other.  Hundreds of organizations, scholars and agencies are working tirelessly to develop assessment tools, techniques and targeted solutions to address climate change.  However, proliferation presents a challenge as well.  Based on the comments from participants across all the sessions I attended, information overload has begun to kick in.  There are now so many tools and practices that navigating through them and selecting the right one for a region, sector, issue, outcome…has become a challenge itself. 

A huge opportunity area for growth and refinement will be the testing and evaluation of many of these tools.  Some are too new to have gone through rigorous review; others don’t have funding to complete the sampleforum51515-11task.  Whatever the reason, funding and good evaluation processes need to be applied to understand what works, how, to what end under what specific circumstances. Additionally comparative analysis between tools, identifying in what contexts and for which purposes each tool is best suited is needed. It is great to find that there are people working on task.  I refer to them as the Meta People – organizations like EcoAdapt, Climate Adaptation Knowledge Exchange (CAKE), The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and others that are reviewing, compiling and finding ways to provide user-friendly comparisons to help decision-makers navigate through their options.

stormwateroutfall51515-13Working with staff from EcoAdapt and the Point Blue Conservation Science nonprofit, I co-led a working group at the Forum to gather information about wetland work related to stormwater management and restoration/mitigation.  What came out of this session was a clear need to identify case studies where this work is happening successfully and to describe the tools that do exist, including the context within which they work.  In most working groups I attended, there was a call for well documented case studies, rather than informal references without context or evaluation. 

Also evident is the critical role of political will and regulatory power.  If the governor, mayor or a community leader with a solid base of support and social capital stands staunchly behind the adaption initiative, presentations indicate that the sailing was often smooth.  And the opposite occurred in areas where there was political resistance.  In the same way, where a state or municipality had adopted regulations to require certain action (i.e. if there was regulatory impetus), this removed a number of initial hurdles to moving forward with adaptation work.  Although this is intuitive, many planning processes bypass or only pay lip service to these considerations.  The best laid of plans likely won’t work without a supportive context.

ohiostatestudy515115-14However, if there is not political will at one level (e.g. state level, county level), it does not necessarily mean that there isn’t activity at another level.  Dr. Derek Kauneckis’ Ohio University study provides evidence that those states not working on climate change at the state-level did have work happening at the municipal level.  Understanding where the political will is – at what scale, in which agencies, and through which individuals should all be taken into consideration.

As part of this scale issue, in many cases presenters and participants argued that large scale climate change data does not make the case for local or regional decision makers, where specific decisions about adaption work often needs to take place.  The cost of data downscaling is significant.  Along with this is the need for ecosystem service valuation work, but again, resources play a huge role in the availability of this information.   Repeatedly practitioners shared that they wished there were more resource-efficient, rapid assessments for this kind of work.  A few states and organizations offered potential examples, which we will be looking into shortly.

At the Forum there was lively discussion about the risk of maladaptation — adaptation that worked in one area, but had unintended consequences in another or functioned in a way that was unexpected due to some oversight.  We at ASWM have just been learning about the challenge of siting solar development projects and their potential negative impacts on wetlands through practices used to install and maintain projects.  Yes, solar is good, but best management practices are needed to avoid damages to wetlands.  Efforts across the US to encourage solar projects in underserved communities illustrates the need to get ahead of the curve and help states and tribes develop strategies to ensure wetlands protection at the same time solar solutions improve energy equity.

A final point I wanted to bring home is the important role of cultural values in all of this work.  What goes into models, what is prioritized for adaptation work, for protection, for action is all tied both directly and discretely to the values of the people undertaking the adaptation decision-making.  Understanding how people prioritize and the role of values in this work should not be overlooked.  Several social scientists and research organizations who presented at the Forum are looking at this work.  ASWM, states, tribes and others would benefit from taking a closer look at this work as we work to integrate climate adaptation into our wetland work. In this same vein, ASWM will have an intern this summer who will be working to develop a comparative matrix of ecosystem valuation tools to help state identify tools that best fit their capacity.

aswm51515-1At ASWM, we hope to incorporate and share many of these ideas with you over the coming months and years.  Our resource pages on climate adaptation at aswm.org will be updated to include a range of new reports, tools and other resources I have brought home from the Forum in the near future.

For more information about the National Adaptation Forum, go here.

To view ASWM’s Climate Adaptation Webpage (which is in the process of being updated), go here.

Posted in climate adaptation, climate change, stormwater, sustainability, wetland management, wetland mitigation, wetland science, wetlands | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

View from the blog-o-sphereMore Ominous News on Wetlands Losses from Sea Level Rise

Wetlands Watch – April 17, 2015
The Center for Coastal Resources Management at VIMS got some funding to do a tidal wetlands marsh inventory on the York River. Due to Virginia’s negligence, the old tidal marsh inventory is over 30 years old, so this inventory was long overdue. For full blog post, click here.

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