Policy Statements » Letters from the President:
Attention: Docket EPA-HQ-OW-2006-0020: Compensatory Mitigation for Losses of Aquatic Resources
June 30, 2006
Dear Sir or Madam:
On behalf of the Ecological Society of America and as a river ecologist, I write to offer comments on the implications of the proposed rule, docket EPA-HQ-OW-2006-0020, for rivers and streams.
The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2004 requires that the Army Corps of Engineers address compensatory mitigation for lost wetlands functions as a result of Department of Army permits. The proposed rule would broaden the requirement to mitigation for all types of aquatic resources that could be impacted by Army activities, including rivers and streams.
The ESA believes it is premature to include rivers and streams in the proposed rule.
While mitigation practices for wetlands have developed a scientific body of literature on their effectiveness, the scientific basis for mitigation of river and stream impacts is less well-established. The science of stream restoration and mitigation is rapidly growing but still not mature, and the proportion of projects that have been monitored for performance is low. For example, there is no evidence that streams can be created de novo as suggested in the proposed ruling; in fact, the best scientific knowledge would suggest otherwise.
Instead, we recommend an independent scientific assessment of stream mitigation practices as a necessary first step to guide the development of rules for compensatory mitigation for losses of ecosystem services provided by rivers and streams as a result of Department of Army permits. In 2001, such an assessment was made for wetlands mitigation by the National Academy of Sciences. Without such a scientific basis, mitigation practices will likely be ineffective and may result in significant loss of ecosystem services in rivers and streams.
ESA does not support the inclusion of rivers and streams in the proposed rule. Future rules concerning river and stream mitigation would benefit from inclusion of scientific considerations, including:
- Defining the ecosystem functions to be measured, and requiring measurement of function loss as a result of the permit, as well as functions at the mitigation site both prior to and following mitigation.
- Addressing the functional differences between streams in different positions in stream networks (i.e. streams of different order), when evaluating or determining mitigation sites
- Accounting for the natural connection between streams, riparian floodplains, and groundwaters, and the impact of this connection on ecosystem functions.
- Following standardized, scientific, and specific protocols for assessment of impacts and mitigation sites, for monitoring these sites, and for maintaining data on mitigation outcomes
- Establishing periodic independent scientific review of the mitigation program
The ecosystem services provided by rivers and streams, including those affected by Army permits, are valuable and well documented. Design of an effective mitigation program, guided by an independent assessment of mitigation practices, could aid management. However, the proposed rule would likely result in ineffective and potentially harmful mitigation practices.
Nancy B. Grimm
President, Ecological Society of America