Posts

How Many Trees Does It Take to Protect a Stream?

A strip of forest along a stream channel, also called a riparian forest buffer, has been proposed and used for decades as a best management practice to protect streams by filtering out contaminants from agriculture and other land uses before they can enter them. Their benefits are many, but one benefit has dominated social and political conversations, and that is their role in preventing contaminants from entering streams. A few years ago, Stroud Water Research Center proposed that riparian forest buffers also play another important role by improving the health of the stream and enabling it to provide more and better ecosystem services for both humans and wildlife — the processing of natural organic matter and pollutants, for example. Thus, a forest buffer provides a first line of defense (keeping sediment and nutrients out) as well as a secondary line of defense (keeping sediment and nutrients from moving downstream) for maintaining clean water in our streams and rivers.
READ MORE AT  http://tinyurl.com/n9s57gk
 

Stream Mitigation Benefits to Private Landowners

Section 404 of the Clean Water Act authorizes the Secretary of the Army to issue permits for the discharge of dredged or fill material into streams, wetlands, and other waters. Applicants for Section 404 permits generally must mitigate for unavoidable impacts to streams and wetlands associated with their development. Stream mitigation may include such on-the-ground activities as preservation or restoration of vegetated riparian buffers; fencing of livestock from riparian buffers; stream bank stabilization activities; installation of in-stream habitat structures; and reshaping of streams to make them more stable and less likely to erode.
READ MORE at:  http://www.etowahriver.org/stream%20mitigation.pdf
 

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

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

N&O: Residents argue that removing Milburnie Dam would ruin scenery

Page A-1
Thu, Apr 22, 2010 05:36 AM
In Fight Over Dam Sides Ask: What’s Natural?

RALEIGH For more than a century, Milburnie Dam has stood 16 feet high in the middle of Raleigh, a stone wall that interrupts the Neuse River like an aquatic comma. Above it, motorboats troll through deep water; below, fishermen wade around a pounding waterfall.

Now a Raleigh firm that does environmental work wants to tear out the privately owned dam and let the Neuse flow freely, removing the only man-made obstacle between Falls Lake and Pamlico Sound. Doing so, they say, would bring shad and other fish further upriver and improve the water quality by speeding up a slowed-down Neuse.

In Fight Over Dam Sides Ask: What’s Natural?
Read more

Something Fishy

Red Herring?

Last Thursday representatives of the North Carolina Division of Water Quality (DWQ) concluded an overview presentation of their mitigation programs to the Environmental Management Commission in defense of credit stacking by expressing a red herring message of fear that without the ability to sell the same piece of mitigation twice,

mitigation costs will be higher

— NCDWQ

and that some areas of the state could

run out of buffer and stream sites

— NCDWQ

to restore??

I’m confused.  DWQ just threw away several hundred thousand dollars and caused an immediate and future degradation to water quality and they’re concerned that correcting the policy that led to this might cause mitigation fees to go up?!  That’s almost as ridiculous as their implication that running out of degraded streams and buffers would somehow be a bad thing.

The tone of these comments by DWQ staff force a reasonable person to ask:  is DENR more concerned with subsidizing the cost of development at the expense of the environment than actually protecting the environment? A skeptic would ask if DENR management is more concerned with protecting it’s empire of programs and divisions than the environment.  And a cynic would merely point out that the Endless Employment Project and the Ecosystem Enhancement Program share the same acronym.

Thursday’s presentation was given at the bequest of EMC Chair Stephen Smith in response to the recent publicity regarding DENR, DWQ, EEP, and EBX that questioned whether roughly a million dollars of mitigation fees required by DWQ, collected by EEP, and awarded to  EBX actually did anything to protect the environment.  According to the NC Program Evaluation Division the answer to that question is clear,

DWQ’s decisions related to this controversy resulted in actual and potential future losses to the environmental integrity of the Neuse River basin. — Program Evaluation Division, NC General Assembly

What’s not so clear is why DENR’s been making policy decisions that degrade the environment as opposed to protect it.  Their public explanations thus far have been premised as simplified versions of complicated issues.  The EMC rule makers need to understand that DENR’s not telling them the whole story.  The most notable omission is that EEP has been charging mitigation fees to developers based on the costs of providing unstacked mitigation credits, their nutrient offset program was at a huge deficit of  compliance,  and they seem to have used retroactive credit stacking, shielded by a process called  “direct purchase” to help balance their books.

It’s time for DENR to stop treating everyone from policy makers to legislators like children and start telling the whole story.   A good place to start would be explaining why DWQ Buffer Interpretation/Clarification #004 was written, and whether it was intended to help every public and private mitigation project that has subsequently taken advantage of it, or just the needs of a certain Canadian mining company.   The first step to recovery is admitting that you have a problem.  Everybody makes mistakes, what’s important is that we learn from them.

Trying to get around all this monkey business, and as a bit of a Curious George myself,  I went to the Man in the Yellow Hat (an industry veteran) who reminded me that at its root, DWQ was a permitting agency.  This DWQ summary, and the Rationale and Methodology for Flexible Buffer Mitigation for PCS Phosphate Company, Inc. help explain the connection between the proposed Consolidated Buffer Rule, the 800 pound gorilla sitting silently at the back of all these public policy meetings, and DENR’s hesitancy to correct their mistake.

PCS Phosphate is currently pursuing a permit to make what could be the largest single impact to water quality in the state of North Carolina and they’re using the Consolidated Buffer Rule to help do it.  But DWQ’s most recent version of the Rule was not only a fix for PCS, but also a fix for DENR’s recently publicized policy problems.  Lucky for the environment, it has been temporarily tabled.  Maybe next time it’s presented they’ll stop monkeying around and call it what it is, The Rule to Help PCS Get Its Permit and Help DWQ Cover Its Ass.  Just goes to show that the Man in the Yellow Hat knows what he’s talking about, at its root DWQ is a permitting agency.

However, this still doesn’t help explain the DENR Assistant Secretary’s response when asked by members of the ERC on December 17th if the recent controversial policy decisions by her department had any impact on PCS, because she appeared to have no idea that there was a connection.  That’s a little ironic, considering she has served as legal counsel to the state’s mining commission, the Southern Environmental Law Center is currently challenging the PCS permit and DWQ has been working for several years on a new Rule to help PCS meet their buffer mitigation requirement.

Maybe she didn’t get the MEMOs, or like Peter Gibbons in Office Space maybe she just ignored them.  When I recently heard DENR had engaged the UNC School of Government to do an ‘outside, third party’ review of EEP and its practices I was encouraged.  But then I heard that the Dean of the School was married to the DENR Assistant Secretary. Sheesh.

The real world ain’t like  school and it ain’t like the movies, and sometimes it makes me sick.  As historian Howard Zinn’s book demonstrates in both title and text, You Can’t be Neutral on a Moving Train.   Letters and MEMOs are important and policy decisions have real and immediate consequences that can’t be brushed over by studies and simplified examples.

For the time being it’s looking more and more like the dead fish in the Neuse aren’t the only thing putrid effecting our waters.  In case they missed the other ones, I hope the DENR hierarchy gets this most recent memo from concerned advocates and this time decides to do something good for the environment.

Great Idea: Oyster Banks as Water Quality Mitigation in Chesapeake bay

It’s not not every day that you come across an excellent common sense idea addressing one of the most vexing problems in your industry; in this case, how to efficiently and reliably remove pollution from the Chesapeake Bay. Paul Calamita, an environmental attorney in Richmond, Virginia, had a letter in today’s Baltimore Sun [Bay needs more oysters, not more enforcement] suggesting that the deliberate and regulated banking of oyster restoration to improve water quality could be employed to  yield “Oyster Credits”  representing improvement in water quality.  These credits could then be used as currency in water regulation.

Entrepreneurial Oyster Farming in Xiamen, China

Read more

SwampGate: Purchasing nutrients from a wetland bank prohibited by EEP's own rules

As an informational update on the brewing controversy concerning the state paying twice for work done once, “Stories from the Field” offers a snippet from the EEP‘s own rule book.  The rule specifically and unequivocally prohibits the dual use of a single mitigation site for wetland and nutrient mitigation, as was done at least once by a private contractor, and perhaps many times by the rule maker themselves:

Ecosystem Enhancement Program:
“Policies, Process, and Procedures Manual,” May 4, 2008

2.0 DEFINITIONS AND PROJECT REQUIREMENTS TO GENERATE RIPARIAN BUFFER MITIGATION CREDITS.

2.9 Wetland and Buffer Mitigation. Wetland mitigation may not overlap with riparian buffer mitigation. When wetland mitigation is implemented in a riparian zone using buffer restoration techniques that could also generate riparian buffer mitigation, a decision must be made as to which type of credit will be claimed from the project. A specific area on a project can generate either wetland mitigation credits or riparian buffer mitigation credits. Portions of a project can be designated as generating riparian buffer mitigation credits and portions generating wetland credit, but these areas cannot overlap.

2.10 Nutrient Offset and Buffer Mitigation. Nutrient offset mitigation is required to be stand alone mitigation in order to generate nutrient offset mitigation. Any area being used for nutrient offset mitigation cannot be used to generate stream, wetland, or buffer mitigation credits. Similarly any area being used to generate riparian buffer mitigation credits cannot be used to generate nutrient offset mitigation.

SwampGate: News and Observer busts EBX for hitting the punch bowl twice

Quite a find on my porch this morning. The state’s paper of record revealed a long-stewing controversy in the obscure but important world of compensatory environmental mitigation policy.  [EBX paid twice for wetlands work, December 8, 2009]  RS’ principal competitor, Environmental Bank and Exchange (EBX), sold nutrient mitigation credits to the North Carolina Ecosystem Enhancement Program subsequent to the site being banked, restored and previously paid for by the North Carolina Department of Transportation for wetland mitigation credit.  In industry parlance —  we call this a “double-dip.”

Read more

Video: Chuck Fox of EPA on the Chesapeake Bay Strategy

You gotta be a real water policy geek to enjoy these videos — and the Swamp Merchant is guilty as charged.  But, as a lazy water policy geek, I particularly welcome this type of public policy video popping up on YouTube. This is so much easier than driving to Richmond.

Note my earlier post below where Chuck is soliciting comments on the raft of new attention and oversight to historically failing bay restoration policies — via YouTube.  These Obama guys are hip!  Sweeet…

Hip Update: How about the Chesapeake Bay Executive Order Facebook Page.  A Facebook fan page for a Presidential Decree!?