Overbank Flooding Event, Pancho Mitigation Bank

Overbank sedimentation during flood events represents an important component of stream restoration success. In addition to its importance for floodplain development, overbank deposition of fine sediment frequently results in a significant reduction of the suspended sediment load transported through a river system to the catchment outlet.

For details on Restoration Systems’ Pancho Wetland, Stream and Nutrient Mitigation Bank in the Neuse River Basin (now in Monitoring Year 2), go to

Farmers and Water Quality Bankers

“That conservation mindset further blossomed after a chance meeting with Brents Fults in a Farmville log yard 10 years ago.

Fults, a landscape architect, long had wanted to develop private enterprise solutions to fix larger environmental problems.

He found a ready partner with John Harrison. By 2005, they had established the state’s first stream bank on Harrison’s Wildwood Farm, which cleaned up streams for credits that then are sold to developers. The nutrient offset bank came next. It’s a more complicated concept with greater potential to meet the family’s goal of generating money to keep the farm.” 

From:  Appomattox County Farm Does its part to keep Bay Clean


I was googling our Virigina water quality partner Brent Fults (never can tell what he is up to) and found this wonderful article I had never seen about his company and the Chesapeake Bay Nutirient Land Trust’s first water quality bank, Wildwood Farms, with the Harrison family of Appamotto County, Virginia.

The story is an accurate tribute to the profound promise of agriculture working with mitigation bankers. Readers of our blog are well aware now of the long history of farmers and bankers doing well by doing good with stream restoration.

In commercial stream mitigation projects, the farmer takes a relatively non-productive creek and riparian property and converts it, with an investment from the banker, to stream mitigation credits for sale to the regulated public. RS and Brent’s firm have done just this with dozens of our farming partners

What Brent and his team accomplished at Wildwood, however, is even more promising for the long-term economic prospects of mitigation banking and to a smaller degree (as it is a much larger industry) agriculture.

EarthSource Solutions expanded their project at the Harrison Farm and successfully permitted the the very first mitigation bank for water quality in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. That’s  a big deal — and getting bigger. Water Quality Banks are the next and much much larger wave of mitigation banking. As we have proven here in North Carolina (with the first such banks in the country) these new approaches lead to a virtuous cycle of payments from water polluters to water improvers (read agriculture).

And to think, all that from a chance meeting at a Farmville VA log yard!!

From the News and Advance of Lynchburg / Virginia Appomattox County Farm Does its part to keep Bay Clean

Five years ago, cloudy water flowed in a tiny Appomattox County stream. A brown fuzz of algae and silt lined the bottom.

The stream, which drains a small section of a 900-acre farm, looked like most rural creeks in Central Virginia that bear scars from agricultural and livestock runoff.

Today, about 110 acres of that farm have been converted from nutrient-polluting cattle land to water-cleansing forest and hay field.

Now the creek flows clear, with bottom rocks clean, as it meets a larger, still murky stream on its way to the James River.

That clear water is the result of years of transformation on John and Phillip Harrison’s land. The effort has placed the farm at the forefront of statewide legislation to improve water quality.

The land is the first in Virginia to help clean our streams, creeks and rivers through a pioneering combination of private business enterprise and two generations of land stewardship. [Full story here]

Letter: Eco-Advocates ask EMC to take action on Double-Dip

Below is an email sent by several concerned environmental advocates to the NC EMC regarding recent policy decisions concerning Compensatory Mitigation Requirements..

Date: Wed, 13 Jan 2010 16:16:07 -0500
Subject: EMC Agenda Item 10-09, Compensatory Mitigation Requirements and EBX

Dear Environmental Management Commission Members,

Given the recent press, you are probably aware of the concerns raised by the environmental community related to the double-dipping of ecological values produced by Division of Water Quality (DWQ) crediting policies.[1]  The concept of “additionality,” as used by DWQ (the gain of additional benefit without additional work), is illusory and should not be applied to the environmental laws and policies we rely upon to protect our public trust waters.

The use of acreage that has already offset stream or wetland impacts to obtain riparian buffer or nutrient offsets re-credits the same nutrient removal function already allotted to existing credits, resulting in net degradation of water quality.  This double counting of credits results in a net loss of ecosystem function, which is contrary to DENR’s purpose of preserving and protecting North Carolina’s outstanding natural resources, including water quality.  In addition, this policy allows mitigation banks-including the Ecosystem Enhancement Program (EEP)-to charge buyers for two restorations, even though only one environmentally beneficial action is created on-the-ground.

[2]  Special Report: Department of Environment and Natural Resources Wetland Mitigation Credit Determinations.  2009 December.

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


and that some areas of the state could

run out of buffer and stream sites


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.