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

Wetlander's Pick of the Posts The three wonders of the ancient world solving modern water problems

By Nivedita Khandekar,, Geoffrey Kamadi, and Dan Collyns – The Guaridan – August 19, 2015
Across large swaths of the Thar desert in western India, traditional techniques for harvesting the little amount of rain that falls has helped people survive the powerful effects of the sun for centuries. The most beautiful of these are step wells – known as baolis in Hindi – large, stone structures built to provide water for drinking and agriculture. For full story, click here.

 

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View from the blog-o-sphereSand Pine in my Longleaf – A restoration problem

By Ario Kane – USDA NRCS – Florida
Washington County landowners Buz and Gail Harris own 535 acres in the sandhills. Nearly 30 years ago the land was planted in Choctawhatchee sand pine. About six years ago they cut the sand pine and decided to restore the property to the longleaf pine-wiregrass ecosystem that was historically found in this area. Four years after planting the longleaf, Buz noticed that the sand pine had begun coming back from seed that was left after the cut. In fact the sand pine trees were growing so fast they were starting to crowd out the longleaf in some areas. The sand pines were large enough and the fuel load low enough that prescribed burning was not going to solve the problem. In fact, it is rare in the sandhills that fire can be used to control sand pine regeneration. For full blog post, click here.

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By Jeanne Christie

The Clean Water Rule is scheduled to begin being implemented on Friday, August 28.  There has been a great deal of press coverage about the new rule, bills introduced into Congress to stop it, as well as numerous lawsuits filed to achieve the same objective.  But in the short term none of these actions are going to effect the August 28 start date.

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So what will change on August 28?  For those who are assigned the task of implementing the Clean Water Act, what will they do differently starting next Friday?

In the near term, the answer is likely to be: not much.

Clean Water Rule Ditch itIn recent weeks the Association of State Wetland Managers has had the opportunity to participate in meetings with many state and federal agency staff around the country. The majority of the people we’ve talked to do not anticipate large changes in their programs as implementation begins.

Despite all the news stories about federal overreach under the new rule, no dramatic changes are expected by those implementing the rule right away.  There are several reasons for this:

1)      In some states there will be no change because state programs are already broader than Clean Water Act under both the old rule and the new rule.  State and federal jurisdiction have never been an ‘either or’ issue. States can and do generally define waters of the state under state statutes much more broadly than the federal government does under the Clean Water Act.  That is, they define state waters as all the waters the CWA covers and much more.  For example most definitions of waters of the state include both surface water and ground water.

But jurisdiction alone does not identify what’s regulated.  At both the state and federal level, it’s a two-step process. The first question is:  ‘What is jurisdictional?’.  If a water is jurisdictional, the next question is: ‘Is the activity regulated?’  If an activity isn’t regulated, it doesn’t matter that the water is jurisdictional.  Dredge and fill activities are regulated under the Clean Water Act.  But in addition, roughly twenty states regulate dredge and fill activities in their state under state statutes.  As a result, on August 28 there may be instances in some states where both a federal and state permit were needed in the past where a federal permit will or will not be needed in the future, but a state permit will be required the same as before.

2)      For many wetlands, rivers, lakes, and streams, their status will not change.  Many rivers, streams lakes, and coastal areas previously identified as jurisdictional under the Clean Water Act will continue to be.  Many wetlands jurisdictional only if they meet the significant nexus test will continue to be subject to the significant nexus test.

3)      As before, only certain activities are regulated.  As noted earlier, under the Clean Water Act, even when a water body is jurisdictional, a permit is only required if the planned activity is regulated. Dredge and fill activities are regulated.  Drainage is not.   Nonpoint source runoff is not.  Normal farming, ranching and silviculture activities are not.

4)      The number of permit applications is greatly reduced in the fall and winter.  There is also the season of the year to consider. The number of permit application will increase in the spring at the beginning of the building season.  But in the winter, in much of the country, it’s not feasible to fill or dredge wetlands and other waters.  The number of jurisdictional determinations (JD’s) requested is lower this time of year.

However, there are changes that will occur and those changes are likely to become evident over a longer timeframe The new rule does change the jurisdictional status of some of the streams and wetlands in the United States.  It removes some waters form jurisdiction entirely. It identifies additional waters and activities as not regulated.  It changes the basis for determining jurisdiction for a number of wetlands and other waters. Lastly, for many of the waters whether or not they have been jurisdictional in the past, the way jurisdiction is determined may be somewhat different.

In addition the extent of waters that will be added or subtracted from Clean Water Act jurisdiction will not be even across the U.S. and some areas will experience more or less or different changes than others.  For example the streams subject to jurisdiction are expected to expand in the drier West with the inclusion of all tributaries with a bed and bank and an ordinary high water mark under the new rule.  At the same time, many ditches with intermittent flow that were subject to jurisdiction previously will likely not be and that is likely to be a more common occurrence in the eastern U.S. where much of the intermittent flow comes from groundwater that is closer to the surface in the wetter East than in the West.

Finally, there have always been areas where determining jurisdiction has always been difficult and this will continue to be the case with the new rule.  This is because the many thousands of miles of streams have been relocated and straightened and may look like a ditch.  While some stormwater systems are clearly artificial, others are not separate from the waterbody they were designed to protect and their status is, always has been, ambiguous.  Although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has asserted that it anticipates no new Water Quality Standards,  Total Maximum Daily Loads, or Point Source discharges are going to be required under the new rule, state laws and regulations, citizen suits and other issues may require additional work by the states that carry out these programs over time.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have been working hard on developing materials to assist states, tribes, and local governments as well as the general public in understanding the new rule and these materials should be available in the near future.  They will be posted on EPA and Corps websites.  To look for updates, check out “Documents Related to the Clean Water Rule”  and in particular scroll down to “Additional Information”.  Technical Questions and Answers for  Implementation of the Clean Water Rule will be added to regularly (there is currently information about grandfathering existing permits included in the material there), and other new information about the Clean Water Rule will be added to the web page as well.

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View from the blog-o-sphereIntegrated Water Resource Protection: RIP in Wisconsin?

By Todd Ambs – Wisconsin Academy – Waters of Wisconsin Blog – August 11, 2015
It was a noble effort, the Water Division in the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR). But like many noble conservation efforts in this state, this too has been recently eliminated. We are told that the changes are needed for efficiency and better integration. The DNR Secretary says that these actions are needed because of the actions of the Wisconsin Legislature. We are told that the current DNR is powerless to change this fact. So the department streamlines, pares back, and works to improve customer service and maintain accountability. For full blog post, click here.

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Wetlander's Pick of the Posts Time for personal and agency action to save birds: Drought is hammering
migratory species and wetlands

Chinook Observer Editorial – July 21, 2015
National Geographic, authoritative observer of the world’s wonders, on July 16 published a sad online story detailing drought’s impacts on the birds that migrate through West Coast states. Much attention has been given to dying and struggling salmon, but NatGeo highlights how species without much obvious commercial value are losing a battle against bleak conditions. For full editorial, click here.

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

Let’s face it – “save the seagrass” doesn’t have nearly the same crowd appeal as “save the sea turtles” (or dolphins or manatees for that matter), yet the multiple benefits that seagrasses produce not only for these adorable creatures but many other denizens of the sea and humans are numerous. Unfortunately, fl1seagrass meadows have been decimated by disease and coastal development. In fact, it has been estimated that every 20 minutes, we lose a seagrass meadow the size of a soccer field. If you care about sea turtles, dolphins and manatees, as well as the welfare of hundreds of millions of people, you should also be very concerned about the demise of seagrass meadows.

So let’s unpack these benefits a bit to illustrate why seagrasses are so important:

Storm Surge Protection

Seagrass can provide an important natural defense against storms and wave action by trapping sediment and slowing down currents and waves. Their extensive root system extends both vertically and horizontally which diminishes the force of currents along the sea bottom, thereby protecting beaches, homes and infrastructure along our fragile coastlines. Their thick mat of roots also stabilizes the ocean floor, preventing destructive coastal erosion.

Food & Habitat for Critters and Humans

According to SeaGrass Grow, “a single acre of seagrass may support as many as 40,000 fish and 50 million invertebrates.”  They form critical nursery habitat and cover for juvenile fish and invertebrates to hide from predators. Although most animals do not eat seagrass leaves directly, some do such as the endangered Florida manatee and the green sea turtle. And the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission seaturtlereport that “detritus from bacterial decomposition of dead seagrass plants provides food for worms, sea cucumbers, crabs, and filter feeders such as anemones and ascidians.” Seagrasses have also been called the “lungs of the sea” because one square meter of seagrass can generate 10 liters of oxygen daily. Through photosynthesis, seagrass leaves convert carbon dioxide and water into oxygen and sugar which are then available for other sea creatures, including commercially and recreationally harvested fish and shellfish. Going further up the food chain, “they provide vital nutrition for close to 3 billion people, and 50% of animal protein to 400 million people in the third world.” (SeaGrass Grow)

Carbon Storage & Sequestration

Seagrasses absorb and store large amounts of carbon dioxide. In fact, the SeaGrass Grow website claims that “seagrass habitats are up to 45 times more effective than the most pristine Amazonian rainforest in their carbon uptake abilities.” That’s a super important service in our efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change. They go on to say that “seagrasses occupy 0.1% of the seafloor, yet are responsible for 11% of the organic carbon buried in the ocean.” Seagrasses use carbon to build their leaves. As their leaves die and decay, they collect on the seafloor and are buried in the soil below, trapped in sediments. This type of stored carbon is often referred to as “blue carbon.”

Clean Water

As with storm surge protection, flowing water slows down when it hits seagrass. This allows for sediment and particles in the water to settle onto the sea floor. And according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, seagrasses “also work to filter nutrients that come from land-based industrial discharge and stormwater runoff before these nutrients are washed out to sea and to other sensitive habitats such as coral reefs.” However, too much nutrient-laden run-off can be detrimental and cause the loss of seagrass communities.

Economics

pikesplaceThe seagrass functions listed above provide economic benefits by: avoiding damage and recovery costs associated with severe storms; providing food and habitat for commercial and recreational species of fish and shellfish (supplying 50% of the world’s fisheries); driving recreation and tourism based economies; and mitigating public health costs associated with poor water quality.

Seagrasses are a huge resource but largely out of sight and vulnerable. Point source pollution (e.g., wastewater discharge, agricultural run-off) and nonpoint source pollution (e.g., stormwater runoff, leaching from septic tanks) are major threats to seagrass as well as the alteration of adjacent watersheds. Seagrasses utilize sunlight for photosynthesis, so when excess nutrients from fertilizers and pollution create algal blooms, the necessary light to retain healthy seagrass beds are lost. Too much sediment can have the same effect. And overfishing, according to Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, can also indirectly cause algae to grow out of control and kill seagrass. Other threats to seagrass include dredge and fill activities (e.g. channels, marinas), boating impacts (e.g. propeller blades, anchors and groundings), coastal hardening, invasive species and aquaculture.

manatee55Seagrasses meadows can be found along the coasts of every continent except for Antarctica, in both tropical and temperate regions (in the U.S. they occur in every coastal state except South Carolina and Georgia). However, it’s estimated that “29% of the word’s seagrass meadows have died off in the past century, with 1.5% more disappearing each year.” (Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History)

Fortunately, there are efforts to restore seagrass meadow populations. In Tampa Bay, Florida, they have been able to restore some seagrass communities to 1950 levels by replanting; however, the replanting has only been successful when combined with implementation and enforcement of point source and nonpoint source pollution reduction policies. Local governments, utility companies and other industries “invested $500 million into efforts that reduced nitrogen pollution, from upgrading sewage treatment plants to generating cleaner energy.”

Sea turtles, dolphins and manatees are adorable and certainly deserve our attention, but they won’t survive long without seagrasses. And Tampa Bay is one of the only “success” bottlenose1stories to date. The science is there, but much more work needs to be done to pass policies that reduce point and nonpoint source pollution in tandem with replanting efforts. So For Peat’s Sake, let’s celebrate, cherish and spread the love for seagrass – our oceans, their denizens and future generations depend on it.

To get involved:

For more information:

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Wetlander's Pick of the Posts Twelve lawsuits brought against EPA’s Clean Water Rule to be heard together

By Whitney Forman-Cook –Agri-Pluse – July 31, 2015
A dozen lawsuits brought in protest against the Obama administration’s newly finalized “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule are scheduled to be heard together as one case before the 6th Circuit Court based in Cincinnati, Ohio. The WOTUS rule, renamed the Clean Water Rule prior to being published in the Federal Register by EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers in late June, aims to expand Clean Water Act protections to cover streams and wetlands, angering some agricultural stakeholders who perceive the measure as unduly burdensome. For full story, click here.

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View from the blog-o-sphereCrafting Wetland Program Plans to Increase the Likelihood of Securing Appropriated Funds and Grants

By Glenn Barnes – Environmental Finance Blog – August 4, 2015
EPA is encouraging all states and tribes to create wetland program plans.  These plans lay out the activities that each state or tribal program plans to undertake over the next few years in each of the four core elements of wetland programs: regulation, monitoring & assessment, restoration & protection, and water quality. For full blog post, click here.

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by Brenda Zollitsch

There are many reasons I might not sleep well on any given night, but the most annoying is surely a visit from a single, bloodthirsty, whining mosquito.  Such was my lot two weeks ago when I was staying at a coastal hotel in Boothbay, Maine and shared my room with one…single…mosquito.  Not only was its insidious whine like nails on a chalkboard, it also occasionally lit on my face in the dark silence and I could feel it walking across my skin.  As the night went on, I could imagine it chortling at my plight through its tiny, vile proboscis.  We joke in Maine that the mosquito is our state “bird.”  Surely if you are visiting our state this summer you too have had the joy of “dancing with mosquitoes”.

As I lay in the dark, trying not to wake my children but occasionally mosq1slapping myself in the face in a futile attempt to rid myself of my night visitor, I thought about the relationship between the mosquito and wetlands.  Can you tell what I do for a living?  As I awaited my next opportunity to vanquish my foe, I did some research on my iPhone.  Despite my circumstances, I found out a variety of interesting and remarkably useful facts and/or findings about mosquitoes and their relationship with wetlands:

  • There are an estimated 70 quadrillion mosquitoes in the world on any given day.
  • There are more than 3,500 species of mosquitoes worldwide.  Approximately 40 species live in the State of Maine. A few of them rarely or never bite humans.
  • Some species of mosquitoes lay their eggs in pools of stagnant water.  Especially-attractive locations include old tires, puddles, pots and cans left lying around, as well as birdbaths and swimming pools —places where water lies still and provides no ecosystem checks and balances.
  • Mosquitoes spend their first 10 days in water, as water is necessary for mosquito eggs to hatch into “wigglers” (larval stage mosquitoes).  Wigglers feed on organic matter in stagnant water before they turn into pupae, their last phase before changing into adult mosquitoes.
  • Mosquitoes have lots and lots of predators throughout their life cycle — birds, bats, fish, and other invertebrates, especially dragonflies.
  • Mosquitoes can be vectors for some very scary diseases, such as malaria, West Nile Virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis.  Mosquitoes kill approximately 725,000 people every year according to the World Health Organization (nearly twice as many as our next deadliest foe: ourselves).
  • However, not all species of mosquitoes carry these diseases .  In many cases, mosquitoes that commonly carry West Nile Virus are not those that live in and around wetlands, but rather ones that both breed in stagnant water that has collected in a variety of containers and frequently feed on birds and a variety of mammals, which facilitates the transmission of these arboviruses to humans[1].
  • Other problematic breeding areas can include Combined Sewer Overflows and failed bioretention systems can actually increase mosquito populations and should be addressed to reduce the presence of mosquitoes and potential associated disease risk.
  • The presence of a healthy wetland generally does not increase the risk of people getting those diseases.  While mosquitoes do generally breed in small pools or large bodies of shallow, stagnant water, a healthy wetland is more likely to reduce the mosquito population than increase it.
  • Filled or partially filled wetlands can be a big threat as well.  Unfortunately, sometimes wetlands are filled as an effort to reduce mosquito populations.  Studies have found that this can actually have the unintended consequence of increasing mosquito populations.
  • A healthy wetland can actually reduce the mosquito population.

mosq3It’s the last bullet that spurred me to write this blog.  Over time, people have blamed wetlands for the spread of mosquitoes.  Mosquitoes have been part of the public relations challenge for wetlands throughout human history.  Wetlands have long been thought of as mosquito-breeding nuisances[2] and drained to protect nearby populations from disease.

However, when a natural wetland is drained, it may still be able to trap enough water after a heavy rain to breed mosquitoes..   Although adult mosquitoes have a very short life cycle (from four days to a month), the eggs they lay can remain dormant for more than a year, hatching when flooded with water. Because of this, a drained or degraded wetland area may actually produce more mosquitoes than it did when it was a healthy, functioning wetland.” 

Flying in the face of popular perception, healthy natural or restored wetlands can actually reduce mosquito density because of the wetland’s associated large number of mosquito eating predators . In the words of wetland restoration expert Tom Biebighauser of the Wetland Restoration and Training Center, when there is a healthy wetland, “the mosquitoes check in, but they don’t check out.”

Considering that we have never existed as a species WITHOUT mosquitoes[3], one would think we would have figured this out by now.  Unfortunately, we have made many a misstep in the management of BOTH mosquitoes and wetlands, and the two together over time — whether filling wetlands, applying damaging pest management techniques or working to eradicate the insect altogether.

In closing, here are some of the key ways we can work to address mosquito issues, while still supporting healthy wetlands:

  • Stop the filling and degradation of wetlands.  A healthy wetland can do much more to reduce mosquito populations than one that has been altered and no longer supports a healthy ecosystem.
  • Support additional research into the role of wetland restoration and other land management techniques in controlling mosquitoes.
  • Support balanced consideration of wetlands ecosystem health and mosquito control when considering management options.  Broad-scale chemical control harms wildlife and does not provide long-term solutions.  Modern mosquito control agents can cause significant negative impacts to non-target species.
  • Use GIS to identify and target treatment of hot spots where mosquito production is a real problem
  • mosq5Generate site-specific knowledge  of wetland areas and conduct monitoring and assessment to determine whether mosquito populations are a problem and target specific spot control, leaving the majority of the habitat untreated.
  • Develop conservation plans that include the conservation and protection of the natural predators of mosquitoes.
  • At your home or business:
    • Get rid of unused tires and other water-trapping containers that are stored outdoors and throw out (or at least turn over) containers that can trap water and serve as mosquito breeding areas.
    • Remove leaves and sticks that might trap water in your roof gutters.
    • Cover trash and drill holes in recycling containers to allow water to drain away.
    • Store boats and kayaks upside down.
    • Change the water in plastic wading pools and bird baths weekly.

Once my mosquito had whined off into the dawn full of its hard-fought meal, I sat there with the sunrise, watching one of my favorite shows, Sherlock on PBS.  Like Sherlock and Moriarty, humans and mosquitoes have had a complicated history full of intriguing twists and turns.  We are a long way from solving the case, but in the meantime research and practice provide a well-documented trail of clues that can demystify the myth that mosquito control requires the destruction of wetlands.

For more information:

  • To learn more about ecologically sound management of mosquitoes in wetlands, go here.
  • To learn about mosquitoes in Maine, wing your way to Maine’s Mosquito webpage.
  • To understand the relationship between healthy wetlands and mosquito populations, go here.
  • For more interesting facts about mosquitoes, go here.

[1] In Maine, this group includes three of the more common WNV vectors, Aedes japonicus, Culex pipiens and C. restuans as well as other possible vectors - C. salinarus and Aedes triseriatus.

[2] Gardner (2011). Lawyers, swamps and money: U.S. Wetland Law, Policy and Politics.  Island Press.

[3] Mosquitoes have been around since the Jurassic Period, making them about 210 million years old.

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View from the blog-o-sphereLessons Learned from the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge

By John Hartig – WildRead – July 27, 2015
The Refuge is like an ecological tapestry made up of numerous species and habitats that when woven together are more beautiful and much stronger than imagined with just the individual species and habitats. Much like a textile tapestry is a source of pride in the home, the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge tapestry has become a source of pride in southeast Michigan and southwest Ontario.For full blog post,
click here.

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