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

Wetlander's Pick of the Posts Learn how you can leave a legacy rooted in conservation

By Craig Highfield – Bay Journal – August 31, 2015
Restoring and conserving our private resource lands remains a major goal in improving the Chesapeake. One of the basic objectives of the Alliance’s Forests for the Bay is to help the region’s landowners realize the benefits and gratification they can receive from their woods and through its management — from the array of potential recreational opportunities or periodic income from harvests to the mere enjoyment of privacy or the aesthetics of their land. For full story, click here.

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View from the blog-o-sphereUsing Gypsum to Help Reduce Phosphorus Runoff

By Mike Mills and Parissa Florez – USDA Blog – September 1, 2015
When it rains it pours. Whether we get a passing shower or a day-long downpour, the runoff ends up in rivers, streams and waterways. That runoff may include nutrients from fertilizers, and one of those nutrients is phosphorus. Phosphorus runoff is causing blooms of harmful algae that deplete waterways of oxygen, resulting in “dead zones” that damage ecosystems vital for aquatic life. It’s a problem in many of the waterways we all depend on for recreation and drinking water, including the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay.  Just last year, Maryland’s outgoing governor proposed land use regulations designed specifically to reduce phosphorus runoff in the Chesapeake watershed. USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists have been looking for ways to address the problem by using gypsum, which binds with phosphorus in the soil and prevents it from running off. 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 polarized country, where political language is dominated by sound bites that sadly do not reflect in-depth research or objective understanding of the issues at hand. It’s a political system that is in many ways defined by a populous that often appears to be more interested in the entertainment value of political debates than in the substance. As a result, the usnavymedia seems more focused on entertainment than accuracy. All of this is reinforced by powerful corporate interests that spin messages aimed to influence opinion in order to increase their bottom line. All of this creates a lot of noise. None of this leads to the truth or a careful, thoughtful examination of the issues in order to reach an informed perspective.

Misinformation makes the task of managing the health of our nation’s natural resources extremely challenging. Take the Las Animas mine spill in Colorado as a perfect example. If you’ve been reading the news, you will have noticed a great deal of finger pointing at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  Did the EPA screw up in its efforts to clean up the Gold King mine? Yes and they have taken responsibility for it. But they did not create the problem of the acid mine wastewater that needed to be cleaned up.

Placing all of the blame for the Las Animas mine spill on the shoulders of the EPA shows a lack of in-depth study and consideration of why the EPA was there to begin with. I recently read a really great article by Jonathan Thompson in High Country News. Thompson doesn’t favor the EPA or the mining companies – his prose provides an objective scientific and historical analysis of the implications of past mining activities as well as the coppermineEPA’s underestimation of the pressure built up behind the dam. Importantly, he also provides an equally important emphasis on nature’s roll in this disaster – that acid mine drainage is a natural phenomenon that is exacerbated by mining. In short, he illustrates that there were many cooks in the kitchen, so to speak, and so to place all the blame for the dam breach on the EPA is not only unfair and unfounded – it is fundamentally wrong and misleading.

Statements by individuals, such as former New Mexico state Rep. Kathy McCoy of Albuquerque, who commented, “Thank you EPA. If a private company had done this, they’d be jailed and fined within minutes” are inflammatory. Anyone who works in the field of water resources understands that hydrology is not that simple – ever. Gold King Mine contained pressurized acid water in large part due to past mining activities – a complex network of mine tunnels intercepted groundwater and exposed it to pyrite and oxygen, producing acid mine drainage. When Sunnyside Gold Corporation expanded their American Tunnel below the Gold King Mine in 1959, the Upper Gold King mine went dry. When they closed the American Tunnel in 1991, Sunnyside’s clean-up strategy included placing multiple bulkheads over tunnel openings, creating back-ups of acid mine water into their mine. It is possible that the pressure created cracks and leaks into neighboring mines such as Gold King, refilling it with acid water. The “dam” that was breached wasn’t a bulkhead placed by Gold King – it was created when a tunnel collapsed and it was the pressure that built up behind it that the EPA underestimated. The fact is, private companies’ past actions and activities were partly responsible for the mine breach.

The bigger problem here that is being overlooked – intentionally or not – is that, as Thompson points out, “Gold King Mine is only one of hundreds of abandoned mines in the basin, and one of dozens that are draining nasty water.” And that is just in the Las Animas River basin. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) maintains a national inventory of known abandoned mines on public lands. According to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), “Abandoned mines generally include a range of mining impacts, or features that may pose a threat to water quality, public safety, and/or the environment. For many minenevadaabandoned mines, no current claimant of record or viable potentially responsible party exists.” As of April 18, 2014, the BLM abandoned mine inventory included “nearly 46,000 sites and 85,000 features. Approximately 23% of the sites have either been remediated, have reclamation actions planned or underway, or do not require further action.  The remaining 80% require further investigation and/or remediation.”

Inflammatory statements will not help us address the remaining 80% of our abandoned mines that continue to threaten our nation’s clean waters. They will not help us move forward in our efforts to restore our nation’s critical water resources. The polarizing statements made about the Clean Water Rule are another example of this. When I hear comments such as “The EPA needs to be stopped before it does more harm to our nation’s precious water resources” by influential political figures such as Julia Slingsby, spokeswoman for House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah), thinkerin regard to the Clean Water Rule, I am deeply troubled. Does anybody really believe that the EPA intentionally works to harm the nation’s water resources? The EPA isn’t perfect, but I don’t believe there is a single federal or state agency, or corporation for that matter, that could be considered flawless either. The truth is that the Clean Water Rule is another well intentioned effort to address a pressing issue that the EPA, along with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, were asked to help clarify at the bequest from parties on both sides of the aisle. To imply that their actions are an effort to harm our nation’s waters distracts from the far more important discussion about what the Rule actually does or does not do.

So for Peat’s Sake, can we please have a national dialogue for once that is exempt from scientifically and legally unfounded statements aimed at further polarizing our political system? I yearn for the day when our leaders might carefully and impartially (and dare I say collaboratively?) use sound scientific and legal analysis to move our country into a healthier and more sustainable future. As Dana Scully and Fox Mulder on the X-Files would say – “the Truth is Out There.”

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View from the blog-o-sphereU.S. EPA Proposes New Rules to Curb Methane Emissions from Oil and Gas Sector

By Mike Mills and Parissa Florez – Mineral Law Blog – August 20, 2015
On August 18, 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released proposed regulations aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from oil and gas facilities. These first-ever proposed standards are a key part of a broader strategy, under the President’s Climate Action Plan, to cut methane emissions in the sector by 40% to 45% below 2012 levels in the next decade. For full blog post, click here.

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Wetlander's Pick of the Posts Ten Years After Katrina, Here’s What’s Happening to Louisiana’s Coastline

By Peter Moskowitz – Vice News – August 27, 2015
It’s been ten years since Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, crippling New Orleans and highlighting America’s vulnerability to natural disaster. In the aftermath, a central question has been whether New Orleans — and other areas along the coast — can be rebuilt better, stronger, and more equitably. But with coastal development swallowing up wetlands, canal dredging by oil and gas companies ruining coastlines, and global warming pushing up sea levels, Gulf Coast residents are wondering whether the land on which they live will continue to exist at all. For full story, click here.

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eEileen_shaderBy Eileen Shader, Director, River Restoration, American Rivers, , 570-856-1128

As Hurricane Katrina rushed towards New Orleans the nation watched in horror as levees broke and water rushed in. We were even more outraged when we realized that this was no natural disaster- it was a failure of man. In 2006 American Rivers highlighted several of the ways man failed New Orleans and the Gulf in “Unnatural Disasters, Natural Solutions: Lessons From The Flooding of New Orleans”.

“The flooding of New Orleans that followed was a tragic and appalling disaster. But it was not a natural disaster. Poor project planning, flawed project design, misplaced priorities, and the destruction of the city’s natural flood protection – Louisiana’s coastal wetlands, were the root causes of the city’s ruin. Each of these causes lies firmly within the hands of man.”
– Unnatural Disasters, Natural Solutions: Lessons From The Flooding of New Orleans.

The flooding of New Orleans was the direct result of over-engineering the Mississippi River and other flawed projects planned and designed by the Army Corps of Engineers. Levees and navigation projects destroyed coastal wetlands, interfered with the deposition of sediment needed to replenish coastal wetlands, and funneled the storm surge into New Orleans. To make matters worse, the Army Corps used flawed designs to build the levee and floodwall system that were supposed to protect the city.

One example of our hubris is the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO). This little used, 76 mile long, deep navigation channel was cut through coastal marsh in 1965 to create a shortcut between the Mississippi River and the Gulf. The channel destroyed over 27,000 acres of wetlands and was dubbed a “hurricane surge super highway”. As Hurricane Katrina moved towards New Orleans, MRGO funneled the 20 foot wall of water toward communities, leveling levees and floodwalls and bringing catastrophic destruction.

Today, New Orleans and surrounding communities are making strides towards achieving their vision for a resilient Gulf Coast. MRGO was finally deauthorized and a surge barrier was constructed; the Army Corps recommended over $ 1.3 billion in restoration projects to Congress; and the State of Louisiana released the 2012 Coastal Master Plan which includes many of the ecosystem restoration projects. However much more needs to be done to cope with rising seas and increased storm intensity due to climate change, starting with funding for restoration projects. The MRGO Must Go Coalition recently outlined what is needed to build a resilient Gulf Coast in the report “10th Anniversary of Katrina: Making New Orleans a Sustainable Delta City for the Next Century”.

Preventing the Next Flood Disaster

In “Unnatural Disasters, Natural Solutions” American Rivers identified three key changes that are needed to prevent the next flood disaster and achieve safer and healthier communities and rivers across the nation. These changes will be increasingly critical as climate change becomes more of a reality of our lives. Have we made any progress over the past decade?

Modernize the Army Corps of Engineers

The Army Corps’ project planning process is outdated and flawed which contributes to inadequate projects and environmental damage. Don’t take my word for it. The National Academy of Sciences, the Government Accountability Office, the Army Inspector General, federal agencies, and independent experts have all issued studies highlighting a pattern of stunning flaws in Army Corps project planning.

Hurricane Katrina shone a bright spotlight on these inadequacies and spurred Congress to make vital reforms. We celebrated in 2007 when Congress told the Army Corps to rewrite their project planning guidelines and again in 2014 when the Obama Administration released progressive new guidelines.

Unfortunately, Congress quickly forgot the lessons of Katrina. Bafflingly, over the past few years Congress has actually told the Army Corps they are forbidden from spending money to implement new and improved guidelines. The Army Corps continues to use outdated planning guidelines to plan water projects.

Adopt Natural Flood Protection

If the coastal wetlands in the Gulf had not been destroyed by canals, levees, and channels, they would likely have provided some degree of natural flood protection from Hurricane Katrina’s storm surge. Inland, natural flood protection can also be attained by maintaining healthy uplands and watersheds that slow the rate of runoff, protecting and restoring wetlands and floodplains, and by restoring a river’s natural flow and meandering channel.

Natural flood protection is slowly gaining a foothold across the country, but we have a long way to go before it is routinely the go-to choice for flood-prone communities. Many communities are making wise investments in natural flood protection like the innovative Floodplains by Design program in Washington state; building coastal resilience following Hurricane Sandy and improving infrastructure by upgrading undersized road-stream crossings in the Northeast; and investing in multiple-benefit floodplain restoration in California’s Central Valley.

The federal government has also made some changes that will encourage communities to look at natural flood protection choices in recent years. President Obama issued a new Federal Flood Risk Management Standard which requires federal agencies to consider nature-based approaches when investing in the floodplain and the 2015 Hazard Mitigation Assistance Guidance from FEMA allows for investment in “ecosystem-based or hybrid approaches to disaster risk reduction”.

Abandon Over-Reliance On Structural Protections Like Levees and Floodwalls

Structural flood “control” projects can cause severe environmental harm and when they fail the results can be disastrous. When a levee is constructed there is often a rush to develop behind them because people assume they will be safe. But levees only provide protection to a certain point. Floods can be higher than levees or erode away inadequate structures. When this happens levee failure can be fast and sudden, flooding development that may not have been built if the levee were never there in the first place.

That said, there is a lot of existing development in floodplains. Acquiring and restoring all the developed floodplain land in the nation would be an impossible task so levees and floodwalls are going to remain a tool in our flood risk reduction strategy toolbox. However, as we move forward, we need to do a better job making sure that these structures are the last option, only utilized once we’ve exhausted every other option. Improvements to the water project planning guidelines mentioned above are a good step in that direction, but we need the Army Corps to implement them to make real progress. Until they do, the drive for natural flood protection is going to have to come from communities and states that recognize that healthy rivers result in healthy, sustainable, and resilient communities.

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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.


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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