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

cwlogoBy Jeanne Christie, Executive Director, ASWM

This past week I’ve joined many others watching the news unfolding about Oroville dam and its eroding spillway.  The videos of 100,000 cubic feet per second churning over the spillway and down the river were impressive and terrifying to watch, particularly when the 180,000 or so residents received evacuation orders last Sunday.

bigpictureSince then, reservoir levels have been lowered, the amount of water being released has been reduced and residents have been told that it is safe to return home.

The integrity of the dam is not in question, but the spillway and emergency spillways were and are the source of concern.  The cost of repairing the spillways is in the range of $100-200 million. And this is only one of 2,000 deficient high hazard dams nationally according to the Association of State Dam Safety Officials. An article on Water Deeply provides an insightful analysis of the costs to maintain and replace water infrastructure—and estimated $187 billion to meet current needs for drinking water, wastewater, waterways, ports, and levee repairs nationwide.  When the intensified weather events that continue to occur are taken into account, the costs are likely to go even higher. So it is not surprising that the California State Water Resources Control Board released a draft resolution for a comprehensive response to climate change.

snowroadHere on the other side of the country, the staff at the Association of State Wetland Managers along with many other citizens of Maine and New Hampshire encountered a different set of challenges over the past week. Over the past nine days five winter storms have blown through the region.

The snow is literally waist-deep and everyone is worn down from getting up every other day to begin plowing, blowing, shoveling and raking snow–again.  Town budgets will be strained covering these costs. Again maintenance and upkeep of infrastructure is very expensive.  Variable weather, adds significantly to the difficulty of planning as costs become more variable in response to the increasing variability in weather.

Over time ASWM has frequently encouraged exploration and adoption of ‘natural infrastructure’ as a way to reduce the infrastructure costs over time.  Natural infrastructure provides the opportunity to expand the tools available to meet water infrastructure needs, particularly in response to an increasingly variable climate.  Natural infrastructure can serve as a buffer against weather extremes and the associated costs.

While I was following the news about Oroville Dam I remembered a meeting I had at the Forest Service a couple years ago. I had asked to meet with someone about beaver reintroduction on Forest Service lands and was surprised when I arrived to find a half dozen people in a room as well as an equal number on the phone.  I learned that concerns about water supply on the front range of Colorado was leading to an increasing interest in establishing reservoirs on Forest Service lands. But putting reservoirs in mountainous places is potentially a poor decision when taking into consideration variable weather. The large forest fires that have occurred in recent years remove trees and vegetation leading to erosion of whole hillsides–a lot of erosion. A reservoir/dam located in an area subject to forest fires would receive that sedimentation and that could significantly reduce the storage capacity of the reservoir.  Reservoirs are expensive.  The people I talked to were very interested in beaver reintroduction as an alternative approach because beaver dams are small impoundments that store water in the pool behind the dam and also in the groundwater next to the dam.  Reintroducing beaver (and this would have to be a large number of beaver over time) on Forest Service lands could be an alternative strategy for storing water in the Front Range. The expense is likely to be significantly lower and beaver have the ability to self-perpetuate.  This is both a windham0217171good and bad thing since beaver are often managed as a nuisance species when they build dams across road culverts and other areas. Beaver reintroduction is a strategy that would require careful planning and thought.

There are opportunities to adapt using the natural world around us and benefiting humans and the environment.

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bos2New Court Decision on Water Transfers Reinstates EPA’s Existing Rule

Association of State Drinking Water Administrators (ASDWA) – February 3, 2017
A recent court decision provides a new milestone in an ongoing legal dispute over whether water transfers, such as a water system might use to move raw water between reservoirs, should require a NPDES permit.  These water transfers situations have long been controversial, especially when the water quality differs between the source and the receiving water body. For full blog post, click here.

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wppRestoration Spotlight: A forest’s hopes rest on golden wings

By Will Parson – Chesapeake Bay News – February 7, 2017 – Video
When Mike and Laura Jackson wanted to restore wildlife habitat on their slice of a forested Pennsylvania mountainside, they did something you might not expect. The husband and wife, who live on 114 acres in Bedford County, started cutting down trees. The Jacksons were motivated to drastic action in part by a small gray bird with flashes of yellow on its head and wings. “We’ve always been birders, so we keep track of what we see,” Laura said, while she and Mike followed the trails that wind through their land. “And we’ve had golden-winged warblers on our property—but the last one we saw or heard was in 2009.” For full blog post and to view video, click here.

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

On Monday, February 6th, a tanker truck carrying home heating oil rolled over on the interstate highway running through Portland, Maine, spilling oil along the roadway and into the Fore River. Since that is right in my backyard, I was obviously very concerned about the potential short and long term impacts to the river as well as to the Casco Bay Estuary. It seems we hear similar stories more and more often about similar accidents across the country.  And with a greater federal emphasis on domestic energy production, I expect we’ll be hearing stories like this much more frequently.  However, spills associated with fossil fuel extraction, production and transport are typically much larger in volume than a local heating fuel truck spill. Transporting large amounts of fuel by truck or by train can be very risky and it is an argument that many advocates for pipelines use to support more construction.

transalaska021017But underground pipelines come with their own long list of risks as well – indeed there really is no perfect solution for safely transporting our energy supplies.  Although the thought of increasing domestic energy production worries me because it will most definitely be accompanied by an increase in environmental impacts (among others), I have to admit part of me thinks it is the best way to open people’s eyes to the risks associated with fossil fuel production and transport. When production is overseas, we often don’t hear about all the impacts to local communities. Now, I expect, we will experience first-hand the risks that accompany these activities more often.

So how do we protect ourselves from the risks associated with domestic energy production (including renewable energy)? The same way we have protected our nation’s environmental, public and economic health for decades – through regulations and permits that require businesses engaged in such activities to follow certain rules and thoroughly weigh the associated risks and benefits in a transparent and rational manner. Today’s environmental regulations were developed in response to identified needs for greater oversight and accountability. It has been a constant challenge to balance the sometimes competing needs for economic, environmental and public health, but it is one that many voices have debated over the years and as a result, we have developed a fairly decent level of compromise on many fronts.

penobscottriver021017One doesn’t have to look too far back to remember what it was like before we had some of our most important federal environmental regulations in place, such as the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act. In Maine, we had a highly polluted Penobscot River – it was not a river that you wanted to wade in or develop a restaurant near. According to the Penobscot River Restoration Trust’s website, “Water quality in the Penobscot River has greatly improved during the last 30 years due to the reduction in industrial pollution required by the Clean Water Act. Communities across Maine already have turned toward these cleaner waters, revitalizing their riverfronts. The return of the Penobscot sea-run fishery and free-flowing river sections will provide opportunities to realize the river’s full potential, including revival of cultural and social fishing traditions.” In Maine, we have seen first-hand how a healthy environment can foster a healthy economy and healthy communities – it does not need to be an either/or situation.

riverfire021017I grew up in Ohio. In my “buckeye state” we all learned about the Cuyahoga River fire(s) in history class. On the website for Ohio History Central, you’ll find this: “Cleveland, OH was once known as a major industrial center within the United States.  As the 1960s came to an end, so did the country’s reliance on industrialized manufacturing.  However, Cleveland continued production which when paired with a lack in sewer and waste disposal regulation, maintained the littering of the Cuyahoga River…..The Cuyahoga River was once one of the most polluted rivers in the United States as represented by the multitude of times it has caught fire, a recorded number of thirteen starting in 1868.” The final fire in 1969 was what inspired the US Congress to pass the National Environmental Protection Act, which led to the creation of the US Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, and subsequently the Clean Water Act in 1972. “The river is now home to about sixty different species of fish, there has not been another river fire since 1969, and yearly new waste management programs develop to ensure the sanitation of Cleveland’s waterways.”

I fear, however, that we have somehow lost our memory of what once was and may not appreciate how much better things are now. Without this historical perspective we may fail to recognize how good we have it now compared to the environment that our parents and/or grandparents grew up in. Changes to our most important federal environmental regulations (and this is not to say that there is never room for improvement, just that we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater) should be fully vetted and pros and cons carefully weighted before action is taken. Any changes need to be evaluated by both federal and state agencies in order to determine the right mix of federal versus state authorities and responsibilities. These regulations were developed during a time when political parties on both sides of the aisle recognized that the health of our economy and the health of our communities were integrally tied to the health of our environment. This bipartisan partnership needs to continue – we cannot afford to lose ground on our achievements over the last 47 years to partisanship and/or political ideology. I for one will continue to do all I can to hold the line on our achievements, and For Peat’s Sake, I hope you will too.

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bos2We Want Young Artists to Inspire the Conservation World

By Gina McCarthy – USFWS Blog – Open Spaces: A Talk on the Wild Side  – February 2, 2017
Several contests give young visual artists a chance to show off their talent in support of conservation. I write for a living but know that picture or photo can make a story. Art can stop people in their tracks and connect with them on a deep emotional level. Please take a look at these contests and see whether you have what it takes. For full blog post and a list of contests, click here.

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wppProgress in Strengthening Our Government-to-Government Relationship with Tribal Nations

By JoAnn Chase and Ethan Shenkman – EPA Connect – January 19, 2017
EPA has long honored tribal rights to sovereignty, self-governance and self-determination. These principles are enshrined in EPA’s Indian Policy, signed by Administrator Ruckelshaus in 1984 and reaffirmed by every EPA Administrator since. Thanks to the unique partnership between our offices — EPA’s American Indian Environmental Office (AIEO) and EPA’s Indian law team in the Office of General Counsel — we have made great strides in bringing these principles to life and weaving them into the very fabric of this agency. For full blog post, click here.

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bos2PA Regulations and Court Victories Translate Directly into Wins for the American People

By Gina McCarthy – EPA Connect – January 19, 2017
Over the past few years we have heard a pretty constant refrain about “EPA overreach” which is shorthand for saying EPA has gone beyond the authority given to it by Congress.   Even though as Administrator both Lisa Jackson and I pledged to follow two guiding principles – the rule of law and scientific integrity – it seemed with few exceptions that nearly every significant step EPA took to protect public health and the environment was met with criticisms of EPA overreach.   So I recently asked Avi Garbow, EPA’s General Counsel, to conduct an analysis of court decisions reviewing the actions taken by the Obama EPA under the Clean Air Act – which were the largest set of actions EPA took.  The purpose of this analysis was to determine whether in fact, the EPA followed these first principles of law and science. For full blog post, click here.

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wppHow to Find Funding for Unpaid Internships

By Elizabeth Morgan – National Wildlife Federation’s Blog –January 26, 2017
Several years ago, I developed a passion for working in wildlife conservation. However, I’ve found that entering the wildlife industry is about much more than just having a passion. Many jobs in wildlife management and conservation — and in many green career sectors — require an advanced degree, several years of experience, and expert knowledge. Internships seem to be few and far between, and often I will find a great position only to discover it is unpaid or in a location out of my reach. I have had thoughts of giving up, but I have been fortunate to find alternate funding sources to continue pursuing my career. In this post, I’ll share some examples of how to find funding for unpaid internships and other work experiences. For full blog post, click here.

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cwlogoBy Jeanne Christie, Executive Director, ASWM

“How lucky I am to have something that makes
saying goodbye so hard.”

A.A. Milne (Winnie-the-Pooh)

As January 2017 comes to a close, two people retiring from the federal civil service will be sorely missed by myself, the staff of the Association of State Wetland Managers and many other wetland/aquatic resources professionals around the country.  Their careers have followed different tracks, but their respective impacts on wetlands and aquatic resource protection and conservation have been significant.

Stephen Samuels is retiring from his position as Assistant Section Chief in the Environmental Defense Section. He is a nationally recognized expert on Clean Water Act jurisdiction and has spent much of his career successfully supporting the U.S. government’s position on Clean Water Act issues.  His contributions have been many, but I can only speak to his importance to myself and state wetland managers.

samuels012617For 15+ years he has made presentations in various ASWM venues on changes in Clean Water Act jurisdiction providing state wetland managers and other attendees with critical insights. CWA jurisdiction has been a continually changing area of public policy particularly since the Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. Army Corps of Engineers 2001 Supreme Court decision significantly reduced Clean Water Act jurisdiction over wetlands. This was followed by the Rapanos v. the United States in 2006 which provided additional constraints and uncertainty.  Steve helped us make sense of the decisions themselves and the various challenges making their way through the courts around the country.  This allowed states to determine how these changes to Clean Water Act on a national level impacted individual state programs.  To hear from Steve directly about how he chose a career in public service, there’s a video! Why I chose a Career in DOJ’s Environmental Defense Section.

Dave Evans is perhaps less well known, but his contributions have been very important. He has had a long career at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency serving most recently as Wetlands Division Director beginning in 2005 and then as Deputy Director of the Office of Wetlands, Oceans and Watersheds since 2013.  As Wetland Division Director, Dave was a regular participant at ASWM meetings. Among his many accomplishments, he has been a strong advocate for improving the capacity of states and tribes to carry out wetland programs including supporting establishment of the Enhancing State and Tribal Programs (ESTP) initiative.  He has also encouraged actions by the EPA to support state and tribal assumption of the Section 404 program.

evans012617It is difficult to articulate the contributions of these two extraordinary individuals over all the years I have had the privilege of working with them. What I remember best is not a catalogue of legal briefs by Steve or program initiatives by Dave but their accessibility, intellect, dedication and humor.

Steve liked to lighten his admittedly dense presentations on Supreme Court decisions with images of fruit on his PowerPoints pointing out that the opinions of the various Supreme Court justices were not apples to apples but rather apples to oranges to cherries. But most memorable was Steve’s careful, deep thinking about the details and ramifications of decisions by the various courts.  And he also made that information accessible to non-lawyers who needed to understand these cases to carry out their work.

Dave, as a representative of USEPA has been perpetually positive and interested in understanding the viewpoints of everyone at the table.  He brings a calm sense of purpose and possibility to every challenge.  This is particularly important working in the arena of wetlands and public policy because the challenges never stop coming. We had many conversations about wetland science, wetland programs and public policy changes over the years and Dave’s ability to take the long view and put day to day events in a larger context has made him a valued participant in national policy discussions.  On a more personal note we share a love of running and routinely catch up on our latest adventures on the road and trail.

Dave Evans and Stephen Samuels have characteristics in common:  honor, integrity, and a commitment to serving the public good.  They leave big shoes to fill.  Wherever they are bound for next, I hope we continue to have an opportunity to work together.  After all…

“Life is a journey, not a destination.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

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