By Marla J. Stelk, Policy Analyst, ASWM

My summer has been spent waking up to contractors outside of my house – hearing the sound of hammers and power tools – and the repeated announcements by my dog, Alice, letting me know they are here. Thankfully the end is in sight, but it’s been a long 4 weeks and we’ve got about another week to go.

We’re having our old clapboard taken down and replaced with fiber cement board. The old clapboard was in terrible shape after years of neglect by previous owners. We had tried to do the repainting ourselves, but found that with limited warm weekends in Maine and with an increasing frequency of rainy days, that we couldn’t get it done. Plus the old wood just wouldn’t hold the paint no matter how well we prepped it. So we made the decision, in light of climate change
predictions for increased precipitation in Maine, to replace it with a material that is engineered for our specific climate zone and to resist precipitation, mold and mildew. In fact, the baked on finish comes with a 15-year warranty covering both paint and labor.

Our neighborhood is ecstatic – finally the “ghetto-fabulous” house at the entrance to the neighborhood is looking respectable. Everyone’s property values have benefited from our home improvement project. Nearly every neighbor has stopped by to comment to us or our contractors about how nice our home looks. And in the process, we’ve been able to initiate conversations about dealing with changing precipitation patterns, the benefits of long-term investments, and sustainable, durable building materials. It’s been an unexpected but wonderful opportunity to share our reasons why we chose to use fiber cement board and the benefits of no maintenance for another 15 years – financially and environmentally.

Interestingly, I have also noticed that several of our neighbors have now initiated their own exterior improvements. I see some of them painting and looking at our house – and I can see it in their eyes – a little tinge of envy. That was not our intention, to spur envy, but it is an emotion that spurs action to “keep up with the Joneses” – or the Stelks as the case may be. But it has made me pay more attention to neighborhood social dynamics. For example, I have noticed in our neighborhood that when one person decides to call the lawn company and have them treat their lawn with pesticides, pretty soon, the other neighbors are doing it too. Suddenly, nobody wants to be the only one in the neighborhood without the perfect lawn.

Exhausting I know, but it has provided me, I believe, with an interesting opportunity to lead by example. I don’t spray my lawn. I use organic corn gluten for weed and insect control and I make sure my Ph levels are in good shape with lime. I mow high and relish the occasional patches of wildflowers that bloom in early summer. And we plan to have our lawn aerated in the fall. Next year with the exterior done, we will do more landscaping and cover much of our front lawn with native ornamental flower gardens. I wonder what the neighbors will think of that? It will, I’m sure, open up yet another opportunity to talk about sustainable landscaping, the benefits of providing pollination sources for the bees and seeds for the birds, and the benefits for our local drinking water. And it will look beautiful – which is what will attract them over to initiate a conversation.

So what the heck does all of this have to do with wetlands, you ask? Well it speaks to the power of “showing” rather than “telling” to communicate deeper meanings and perspectives. By living our personal lives in line with our professional values, we offer an opportunity for folks who don’t have the same professional knowledge and education to learn from us. I have certainly learned from others in my life and they have shown me not only why they do what they do, but how – and they do it by example and by personal stories. It’s an extremely effective and non-confrontational approach to communicating complex scientific ideas.

My neighbors don’t want to listen to me talk about how lawn fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides get leached into Tannery Brook behind our homes. On some level I’m sure they already know this. They don’t want to listen to me talk about how climate change is going to create more intense and frequent precipitation in the form of rain in the northeast. Instead I share with them the stories of how hard we tried to keep up with old clapboard and how we now have rot to deal with which attracts bugs. And then I explain how this new material will save us time and money – oh and by the way it’s better for the environment, too. If I approach these issues from a pulpit, many of them, quite frankly, will shut me out – either they don’t want to hear it about it because it’s too depressing or overwhelming or they don’t believe it. But with a positive approach that speaks to the benefits (for critters and for my pocket book) of our choices to use sustainable building materials and non-toxic lawn care, then I can get their attention. And we’ve shown that it can be done, on a budget and with beautiful results. Their human instinct to keep up with the Stelks might just create a ripple effect.

So when you are trying to communicate about the benefits of wetland conservation to a broad audience think about how you can change people’s perspectives through stories. Lean on your own personal experiences and, whenever possible, take people out into the wetlands themselves. Share your love of wetlands and the critters that call it home. Don’t tell – rather, share your knowledge through stories about all the really cool benefits of wetlands, like how they can provide clean water, can absorb excess storm water and reduce flooding impacts, and they are essentially the earth’s kidneys. How they provide recreational opportunities for canoeing, kayaking, bird watching, hunting and fishing. For Peats’ Sake, share your enthusiasm and your stories and lead by example. People might just want to keep up with the “Wetlanders.”

FMI on natural lawn care, visit the Maine Dept. of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Yardscaping.

FMI about fiber cement board, visit here or here.

Posted in Communication, education, green infrastructure, sustainability, urban wetlands | Tagged , | Leave a comment

View from the blog-o-sphereEPA to propose limits on Alaska’s Pebble Mine project

By Juliet Eilperin – The Washington Post – July 18, 201
The Environmental Protection Agency issued a proposal Friday under the Clean Water Act that would limit mining activity in Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed, striking a major blow to a project that would rank as one of the world’s largest open-pit mines. The proposed determination, which will now be subject to a public comment period until Sept. 19, represents the latest step by the Obama administration to impose restrictions on a massive gold and copper mining project, called  Pebble Mine. Native Alaskan tribes, commercial fishing operations and environmentalists who have been seeking to block the venture on the grounds that discharge from its operations could harm the area  that supports nearly half of the world’s sockeye salmon. For full story
, click here.

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Wetlander's Pick of the Posts

Editorial: Preserving health of Mississippi River should be national priority

St. Louis Today – July 14, 20
National river policy politics are a lot like the annual flood fights waged in small towns and big cities up and down the Mississippi and Missouri rivers and their tributaries. Consider what happened last week in Clarksville and Grafton and St. Charles. Flood fights are intensely local affairs: The goal is to keep the water out of one man’s house, or another woman’s Main Street business, or the kids’ soccer fields. But every sandbag piled here pushes the water higher over there. One of the nation’s most important resources, the Mississippi River watershed that stretches across 31 states and literally helps feeds the world, suffers from the political neglect stemming from localized political squabbles. For full editorial,
click here.

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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.

Posted in Clean Water Act, water | Leave a comment

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