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Texas flood and the Katy Prairie Stream Mitigation Bank

The Katy Prairie west of Houston is in a certain sense ground zero for the recent Texas floods. The section of Harris County where RS’ Katy Prairie Stream Bank is located is an absolutely critical landscape for protecting Houston from flooding — and indeed mitigating the threat that already exists.

2009 Katy Prairie flood

Here is the deal: The 7000 acre Warren Ranch (owned by our partner in the mitigation bank, the Katy Prairie Conservancy) is centered in the last undeveloped expanse of the Katy Prairie west of Houston. It is well known that the relative worsening of Houston floods over time is attributable to the loss of storage capacity upstream as formerly pervious agricultural landscapes are devoured by the ‘concrete beast’ lumbering westward from the city center.

As the city and its environs devours land that once soaked up peak rain events, flooding downstream in Houston increases. The situation is the subject of increasing anxiety for Houston residents and the Corps of Engineers, who operate two flood control reservoirs protecting the city. 

The Katy Prairie Stream Mitigation Bank was deliberately located to address these problems. The project is a very positive development for Houston flood control for several reasons:

  • Water courses on the Warren Ranch are permanently protected in the future from culverting and concrete armoring which worsens flooding.
  • The former canals and ditches that once conveyed flood water too quickly downstream are restored to natural design channels which (ironically) flood more easily, thereby easing the flow downstream to the city.
  • Proceeds from the mitigation project collected by the Katy Prairie Conservancy are plowed into protecting more uplands in the region — leading to a virtuous cycle whereby mitigation dollars for aquatic mitigation are indirectly leading to the protection of flood protection uplands.

The 2008 Mitigation Rule is very clear that banks should be located using a watershed approach whereby the purpose and needs of the project are addressed regionally instead of locally. It would be hard to identify any mitigation bank in the country that more appropriately incorporates the watershed approach than the KPSMB.

Finally, perhaps you were interested to know how the restored streams fared in the recent deluge? Keep in mind 90% of the time our restored creeks are bone dry (or a “low-energy” system in hydro-parlance) but were designed — hopefully — to withstand every now and then a monstrous event of the scale recently witnessed.

Travis Hamrick popped up the drone and took the photos above and video below. As they used to say in the Timex commercial, the KPSMB: ‘Takes a lickin’ — and keeps on tickin'”…

Lesser Prairie Chicken (LPC) Resource Center

We love the LPC everyday, especially on Valentine’s Day! Lesser prairie chickens (LPC) once ranged all across the Southern Great Plains. Historically this area of the United States boasted both lesser and greater prairie chickens along with teeming herds of bison and pronghorn antelope, huge black-tailed prairie dog towns and mule deer in the wooded draws and canyons.

Lesser prairie chickens could be found in much of western Texas, western Oklahoma and Kansas, eastern New Mexico and southeast Colorado. This regional landscape, however, has seen many changes over the last 150 years, leading to an estimated 92% decline in this little grouse’s population. These losses are a direct result of the declining quality of habitat due to human activities such as conversion of native prairie to tilled agriculture, oil and gas exploration, urban development and suppression of naturally occurring fire.

READ MORE at http://lesserprairiechicken.com/

Great Lakes Mississippi River Interbasin Study published; public hearings scheduled

The GLMRIS Report presents the results of a multi-year study regarding the range of options and technologies available to prevent aquatic nuisance species (ANS) movement between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins through aquatic connections. Through a structured study process, USACE identified thirteen ANS of Concern established in one basin that posed a high or medium risk of adverse impacts by transfer and establishment in the opposite basin. USACE analyzed and evaluated available controls to address these ANS, and formulated alternatives specifically for the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS) with the goal of preventing ANS transfer between the two basins.

The report contains eight alternatives, each with concept-level design and cost information, and evaluates the potential of these alternatives to control the transfer of a variety of ANS. The options concentrate on the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS) and include a wide spectrum of alternatives ranging from the continuation of current activities to the complete separation of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins. The GLMRIS Report also includes an analysis of potential impacts to uses and users of the CAWS, and corresponding mitigation requirements for adverse impacts to functions such as flood-risk management, natural resources, water quality, and navigation.

READ MORE: http://glmris.anl.gov/glmris-report/
DOWNLOAD Summary Report pdf at
http://glmris.anl.gov/documents/docs/glmrisreport/GLMRISSummaryReport.pdf

NC House Committee on Wetland and Stream Mitigation to meet Feb. 27

NORTH CAROLINA GENERAL ASSEMBLY

The House Committee on Wetland and Stream Mitigation (LRC)(2013) will meet at the following time:

Thursday

February 27, 2014

9:00 AM

544 Legislative Office Bldg

Map: http://www.ncleg.net/graphics/downtownmap.pdf

Co-Chairs
Rep. David R. Lewis (Co-Chair) House Appointment
Rep. Chris Millis (Co-Chair) House Appointment
Legislative Members
Rep. Kelly M. Alexander, Jr. House Appointment
Rep. Becky Carney House Appointment
Rep. Rick Catlin House Appointment
Rep. Kelly E. Hastings House Appointment
Rep. Charles Jeter House Appointment
Rep. Chuck McGrady House Appointment
Rep. Garland E. Pierce House Appointment
Rep. Phil Shepard House Appointment
Rep. Paul Stam House Appointment
LRC Member
Rep. Tim Moore Ex Officio

Bass Mountain Stream and Nutrient Bank under construction

Five recent photos of construction on Bass Mountain Stream and Nutrient Bank.

Click on the link below for a map of the service area and a drone-taken video:
http://www.restorationsystems.com/projects/bass-mountain/

Drone’s Eye View

Photo was taken from approximately 500 vertical feet above ground level looking North Northwest upstream along the Cache La Poudre River (Colorado) and down on the 3-Bell conservation easement.

 

 

 

 

The bottom center of the photo clearly shows a healthy oxbow ecosystem dominated by sandbar willow and cottonwood galleries. Upstream are remnant oxbows which have been heavily degraded by human agricultural practices. Drone under control of Raymond Holz; still picture clipped from video.

 

2014 National Mitigation & Ecosystem Banking Conference

This is the first of several blog articles I intend to write that are designed to encourage your attendance at the upcoming “2014 National Mitigation & Ecosystem Banking Conference” in Denver (May 6-9). Without an ounce of shame, I’ll initially feature Session 6 of which I am the moderator, “Emerging Markets.”
 The planning committee has selected three excellent presenters covering a variety of issues, all of which should be of great interest to many conference attendees.

Brett Berkley, Senior Vice President of Greenvest, LLC, is extensively involved in nutrient offset generation and banking, including active trading in existing markets, as well as participation on various task forces, workgroups, advisory panels, etc., to catalyze emerging markets. His presentation will highlight existing nutrient trading markets (what has worked, lessons learned, etc.) and describe the challenges these emerging markets face (components of credit calculation; competing stakeholder interests; verifying, maintaining and monitoring results; fees-in-lieu; service areas; demand drivers; etc.) and explore future trends and opportunities. The discussion of existing markets will cover North Carolina’s established and successful nutrient trading program, as well as Maryland’s Nutrient Cap and Trade Program- now 5 years old without a single trade successfully executed.

Vanessa Hickman, Arizona State Land Commissioner, Arizona State Land Department, provides recommendations to the Governor on a statewide approach to mitigation and conservation banking that includes State government, local governments and the private sector in order to meet long-term natural resource conservation objectives. Her presentation will include a discussion highlighting the challenges and successes facing the Mitigation & Conservation Banking subcommittee of the Natural Resources Review Council (NTCC) due to conditions in the arid southwest, a recently approved in-lieu fee program administered by the Arizona Game & Fish Department, the specific Congressional mandate directing the scope of the management of State Trust lands, and the vast amount of land under public ownership in Arizona.

Doug Robotham, Water Projects Director, The Nature Conservancy, Colorado, is developing mapping, guidance and decision tools to support a more comprehensive approach to biodiversity conservation and river basin planning. His recommendations will help improve how voluntary water banking agreements and investments are targeted to optimize water supply security and environmental benefits. A collaborative group, including West Slope agricultural interests, Front Range cities, and The Nature Conservancy, is working on an alternative risk mitigation strategy that entails creation of a Water Bank for Colorado’s western slope that could operate either to forestall or respond to such a call, should one materialize.

For information about the conference, go to http://www.mitigationbankingconference.com/

I hope to see you in Denver.

Buddy Study: Dr. Riggsbee in Science again

Stories is bursting with pride at the continuing accomplishments of Adam Riggsbee.

Adam worked at RS for a couple of years after getting his PhD at Carolina where his subject of study was dam removal. During that time Adam and his academic collaborator Todd BenDor had the bright idea (along with your’s truly) of surveying mitigation providers in 2009 following publication of the new Federal Mitigation Rule.

What we discovered was that mitigation banking “post-rule” is still a spooky business proposition. As detailed in Adam’s journal article below, and further reported this week in Science, 75% of participants believe the mitigation Rule did not lessen the financial risk of commercial compensatory mitigation.

Moreover, more than half reported that fundamental aspects of the regulation were essentially being ignored, such as the clear-cut preference for banked mitigation over Do-It-Yourself or Fee Program mitigation.

While disappointed with the results, I was not surprised. We had just returned from this year’s 2011 National Mitigation and Conservation Banking Conference in Baltimore. As in 2009, much gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair was evident among the participants over Rule compliance issues. If anything the angst was more intense than when the study was performed.

As a “Silver Back” in the mitigation business, however, I was less worried and more comfortably numb. Mitigation banking is simply not for the faint of heart or impatient. It is a long-term proposition likely to yield its reward only over great spans of time (under hypoxic conditions and at great pressure).

To use a trite but nonetheless apt phrase, commercial mitigation is not a revolution — but an evolution. Regulatory thickets can be pruned here and there and encouraged to grow healthy, but bush-hoggers need not apply as mitigation bankers

Which brings me back to Adam Riggsbee. After his stint at RS, Adam and his loyal side-kick (the westerly named) Matt Jessee moseyed on down to Austin, Texas and opened their own swamp and creek shop, Riverbank Ecosystems.

I was a bit concerned for the young fellers.

How could someone as steeped in the perils of commercial mitigation as Adam Riggsbee possibly put his young family and best friend on the firing line in the Lone Star state? It has worked for us thus far at RS — but we got lucky — and nearly had our clocks cleaned at several points. What if these guys were cut down by the real world challenges of swamp swamping for profit?

Not a chance. Adam has approached the challenge of professional mitigation provision just right. He is cultivating a winning mix of hard science and good business as a corporate strategy at Riverbank Ecosystems.

As far as I can tell, there is no one else in the business who is publishing at a high level on mitigation while simultaneously negotiating land options on valuable Central Texas ranches. Adam is the best of both worlds in mitigation: A publishing businessman.

As Dr. Riggsbee joked this morning, it is now “official.” It takes longer to produce revenue from mitigation than it does to publish on the subject in a top journal.

Welcome to the rodeo, kid.

“Science” Editor’s Choice “A survey of entrepreneurial risk in stream and compensatory mitigation markets”

A survey of entrepreneurial risk in stream and compensatory mitigation markets

Vindication: NCDENR study confirms privately contracted mitigation superior to government "in-house" projects

I haven’t had time to pick through this carefully, but it appears to be a win for private “Full Delivery” mitigation and mitigation banks — not to mention a damn fine academic effort. I will be back soon with more detailed commentary.

Compensatory Stream and Wetland Mitigation in NC Evaluation of Regulatory Sucess