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

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

Losses due to flooding and severe storm events have been and continue to be on the rise due to both naturally occurring extreme weather events and human activity. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. experienced four (4) billion dollar inland flood events during 2016, “doubling the previous record as no more than 2 inland flood events have occurred in a year since 1980.”[1] Sea level rise is exacerbating the issue in coastal areas, and with more and more development happening along U.S. coastlines, more infrastructure and lives are at risk than ever. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported that during the 20th century, sea level rose .07 inches on average per year. Recent satellite observations report a significant increase at .12 inches per year since 1993. A 2015 report released by NOAA, entitled Population Trends Along the Coastal United States: 1980 – 2008, found that in 2003 more than half of the U.S. population (53%) lived in 673 coastal counties – a land mass that only accounts for 17 percent of the nation’s contiguous land area. This was an increase of 33 million people since 1980.[2]

katrina052517From 1980 – 2017, there were 27 billion-dollar flooding events totalling $114.4 billion dollars (CPI-adjusted) for an average of $4.2 billion per event, involving a total of 520 deaths. The Weather Channel reports that on average, there are typically around 82 flood-related deaths per year in the U.S., making it the second most deadly weather-related event behind extreme heat. In contrast, in just one 18-month time window, from January 2015 and June 25, 2016 there were an estimated 234 flooding deaths.[3] According to information from the Association of State Floodplain Managers (ASFPM) website, flood damages now cost an average of $6 billion annually – a four-fold increase from the early 1900s.[4] See Chart A for a graphic illustration of flood related losses between the years 1980–2016.

With all of these financial impacts, not to mention the loss of thousands of lives, it’s no wonder that state and local governments are trying to find ways to mitigate their risk to natural hazards. But what legal and financial risks do they face in their attempts to reduce their risks for future disasters? On the one hand, they could face legal challenges for not taking enough preventative measures if they have sufficient data to show that with inaction they have increased the risk of disaster-induced damages in their communities. On the other hand, if they are more proactive, what kinds of legal challenges may they face in regard to potential “takings” claims from private property owners as they try to move people and infrastructure out of harm’s way?  This is exactly the quandary that many states and local governments currently face, and it is what Dr. Jon Kusler, Esq. has so meticulously examined in his most recent book, Government Liability for Flood Hazards. As Dr. Kusler comments in his Forward, they are “Damned if they do; damaged if they don’t.”

As a local elected official in my home town, it’s an issue that I think about constantly. My small town in Maine only has a population of around 17,000, and we are not located on the coast, so our risks are not as great as many other communities along the coast of Maine. We do, however, have flooding issues from time to time along the Presumpscot and Little Rivers. We are also the fastest growing community in Maine, so we are seeing an increase in run-off from newly developed impervious surfaces, which can exacerbate flooding intensity. With forecasts for increased precipitation events in the Northeast[5], flood risk is something our community is eventually going to have to take seriously.  Jon’s book is an excellent resource chock full of annotated legal cases and textual discussion that state and local governments can use with their attorneys to avoid or address potential legal challenges as they figure out how to prepare – or not – for potential future flood damages.

glfhI’ve had the immense honor of getting to know Jon over the past four years. Many of you have likely known him for far longer. For those of you who have not been lucky enough to get to know him, Jon is a lawyer, scientist, prolific writer, and educator with more than 35 years of experience working with legal/science/policy issues in water resources, wetland and floodplain management, and natural hazards. He is one of only a handful of active wetland scientists/managers with the valuable combination of both a law degree and Ph.D. In 1983, Jon helped found the Association of State Wetland Managers and served as its Executive Director from 1990 to 2001. He was recipient of the Gilbert White award in floodplain management in 1979, the Environmental Law Institute’s National Wetland Lifetime Achievement Award in 1990 and the Society of Wetland Scientist’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009. He has authored a wealth of articles, books and reports specializing in mitigation of natural hazards, wetland and floodplain management, and water resources planning. This book is truly a signature achievement and is the culmination of Dr. Kusler’s flood/liability related research (and that of his colleagues) from over the last three decades, so For Peat’s Sake, order your copy now and keep it close at hand.

[1] NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) U.S. Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters (2017).

Posted in adaptation, climate change, environmental law, flooding, floodplains, hurricanes, Infrastructure, Land use planning, law, natural hazards, resiliency, sea level rise, stormwater, watershed management, wetlands | Leave a comment

bos2Reaching Higher Ground in the Face of Climate Change

By David Flores – CPR Blog – May 3, 2017
We’ve seen a flurry of news coverage in the last several weeks on climate migration, displacement, and relocation. In a new report  published today, the Center for Progressive Reform explores these issues and examines tools and resources that communities can use when faced with the challenges of relocating out of harm’s way.  For full blog post, click here.

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wppMaryland Oysters – Past Wars & Present Challenges – The Wetlands Web – May 17, 2017
An important chapter of Maryland history with relevance today is the Oyster Wars saga beginning around 1830 and featuring oyster pirates, boat chases, gun fights, and cannons. Through the nineteenth century, skirmishes pitting pirates against enforcement officers, and tongers against dredgers occurred fairly often and even resulted in fatalities. Today, having moved beyond the fierce Oyster Wars, watermen, environmental scientists, elected representatives, and Marylanders, still retain their deeply-held, and often conflicting, opinions about harvesting and restoring Bay oysters. Current trends are hopeful for the future of Maryland oysters. For full blog post, click here.

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wetlands051917By Suzanne van Drunick, National Program Director, EPA’s Safe and Sustainable Water Resources Program

This month we celebrate the vital importance of wetlands to our Nation’s ecological, economic, and social health.  Healthy, functional wetlands improve water quality, increase water storage and supply, reduce flooding and streambank erosion, support high biodiversity including commercially important fish and shellfish, offer recreational activities, and provide critical habitat for plants, fish, and wildlife. Wetlands occupy only about 5 percent of the contiguous U.S. land area, but are biological powerhouses.  About one third of threatened and endangered species live exclusively in wetlands, while another 20 percent depend on wetlands for some periods of time during their life, such as during migration or reproduction.

Our researchers are working to improve water quality for healthier wetlands, to assess and map the condition of wetlands across the Nation, and to develop tools to restore degraded wetlands. EPA research is also used to provide guidance on how communities can best respond to the growing number of emerging contaminants that threaten our water resources, including chemicals, pathogens and harmful algal blooms. EPA science is advancing knowledge on the critical role of wetland communities and habitats in improving water quality and reducing eutrophication in downstream waters.

051917wetOne recent tool our researchers developed is the Rapid Benefits Indicator (RBI) Approach tool. This tool is a simplified process that uses readily-available data to estimate and quantify benefits to people around an ecological restoration site. It provides a framework that can be used to compare potential wetland restoration scenarios based on these benefits without the need for estimating dollar values. This approach is important because it gives decision makers a way to compile information that indicates who is likely to benefit from restoring a certain site, and by how much. It provides detailed tradeoffs between the functions and benefits of each site when deciding to restore local wetlands. Download the Rapid Benefits Indicatory (RBI) Approach here.

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bos2It’s time to make soil great again

By David Montgomery – GreenBiz – May 6, 2017
Most of us don’t think much about soil, let alone its health. It’s time to recommend some skin care for Mother Nature. Restoring soil fertility is one of humanity’s best options for making progress on three daunting challenges: Feeding everyone, weathering climate change and conserving biodiversity. For full story, click here.

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wppThe Injustice of Atlantic City’s Floods 

By John Upton – Climate Central – May 10, 2017 – Video
A driver plowed a sedan forcefully up Arizona Avenue, which had flooded to knee height during a winter storm as high tide approached. The wake from the passing Honda buffeted low brick fences lining the tidy homes of working-class residents of this failing casino city, pushing floodwaters into Eileen DeDomenicis’s living room. For full story, click here.

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marcseelingerby Marc Seelinger, The Swamp School

The Swamp School – Swamp Stop – May 9, 2017
For the past couple of years, we have noticed an increase in our international student body. Wetland identification and delineation is becoming more important as countries expand their economies and run into complicated water quality and quantity issues. Wetlands play an important part in the overall water management of a given country.

Recently the Swamp School released a new online class entitled, International Wetlands Assessment and Delineation. This class is tailored to meet the needs of the international community and has been put together based upon Ramsar, Wetlands International, USACE and other standards.

One of the principal features of a wetland is the plant community that exists in the wetland. In the United States, we have the benefit of a wetland plant list that is decades in the making. It was originally created by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and has since been updated by the US Army Corps of Engineers.

To read the complete blog post, click here.

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bos2A Hands-On Education in River Restoration

Walton Family Foundation Blog – April 24, 2017
Sarah Henry, a teacher at the Paradox Valley Charter School in the small town of Bedrock, Colorado, knows how important the health of the nearby Dolores River is to the local community. The Dolores, a 240-mile-long tributary of the Colorado River, supplies water to irrigate agricultural crops, support ranching operations and is a destination for fly fishers, rafters, campers and hikers. It’s also under siege by invasive tamarisk trees, a thirsty species that spreads along the riverbank, sucking up precious water and choking off access to the river for recreation. For full blog post, click here.


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wppWhat happened when an industry-friendly EPA leader in the ’80s went too far

By Scott Tong – Marketplace – May 02, 2017
Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in the Trump administration, has drawn fire for being too close to the industry he regulates by reversing a planned ban on a pesticide and rolling back rules of power plant pollution. But this isn’t the first time the EPA pendulum has
swung this far. The last time it happened, in the dawn of the Reagan administration, the efforts crashed and burned. For full story, click here.

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

April in Maine finished with above average temperatures and above average precipitation for most of the state. May is turning out to be very wet as well. Although the clouds and rain have been challenging to the psyche of most of us living in the Northeast, it has been well received by our flower friends who have relished the hydration with a few sunny days mixed in.  I was very excited to see the daffodil0504172Daffodils blooming along the side of my house last week. It’s always great fun to plant something in the fall and see it pop up so beautifully in the spring.  Tulips, Crocus’s, Bleeding Hearts, Forsythia, Azalea – all have been making their annual appearances around the southern Maine landscape.

I try to focus all my landscaping efforts on using perennial plants – partially because it means I don’t have to replant every year (aka I’m lazy) but also because they are often the gentlest option for the environment, although I am not as well versed in this topic area as I would like to be. My favorite coffee shop around the corner from our office is hosting a permaculture plant swap this weekend. Unfortunately I’m so new at this that I don’t have anything to swap. But perennial gardening in Maine is a popular activity and I am looking forward to learning more as I continue to add to my yard.

This time of year, many folks who are equally new to the whole landscape gardening hobby as I am, may get enticed by certain plants offered at garden supply stores and inadvertently purchase an invasive, non-native species. Sadly, many garden stores still sell these items despite the ample amount of evidence showing how much damage they can wreck on local ecosystems. The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (DACF) adopted rules this January that prohibit the sale of 33 invasive terrestrial plant species. I encourage all of you to check with your state’s natural resources agencies to see if they have a similar plant list that can help protect you against accidentally continuing the spread of invasive, non-native species.

iris05041714There are many really great plant nurseries and garden centers around, however, which go out of their way to ensure you are purchasing native, non-invasive plants for your landscaping projects. I was excited to get an email recently from Environmental Concern, Inc., a 501(c)3 public not for profit corporation, that is dedicated to working with all aspects of wetlands, which had information about a two-day annual spring native plant sale happening in St. Michaels, Maryland. The email featured a native aquatic flowering plant called Iris Versicolor  which may be grown in up to 2-4” of shallow standing water. It’s an absolutely gorgeous plant and on my list now to find a good home somewhere around my house.

Wildflowers are one of my favorite wonders of nature – especially in the arid west. I had the good fortune of taking a one-day wildflower identification
coloradoclass while interning with the US Forest Service in Creede, CO right after college and I can tell you, nothing quite grabs your attention like a brightly colored Indian Paintbrush in the middle of the desert or a Colorado Columbine on a rocky slope at 10,000 feet. We also had a wonderful wildflower walk hosted by Elizabeth Byers (Senior Wetland Scientist, W.V. Department of Environmental Protection, Watershed Assessment Branch) at our annual State/Tribal/Federal Coordination meeting in West Virginia last month.

Did you know this week is National Wildflower Week (May 1-7)? According to the USDA, wildflowers “provide critical habitat for pollinators, beneficial insects and wildlife, which is important for ecosystem function and pollination. They can also improve soil health, prevent erosion, improve water quality, increase yields and enhance forage conditions for livestock.” So they are beautiful, magical workhorses, in other words.

No matter where you live in the U.S., I encourage all of you to go out and enjoy the May flowers in celebration of American Wetlands Month.  ASWM will be celebrating American Wetlands Month by posting fun facts, trivia, videos, etc. on its Facebook page Monday-Friday throughout the month. We’re also hosting a photo contest – click here for more information. So for Peat’s Sake, join the fun, go check out some gorgeous native flowers and tune in daily to the ASWM Facebook page!

Posted in American Wetlands Month, aquatic plants, gardening, invasive species, wetland plants | Tagged | Leave a comment
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