The staggering loss
of wetlands nationwide prompted mitigation banking
in order to bring private sector resources and innovation
not often available in the public sector to the table
to help solve the problem. The Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) estimates 103 million acres of the 220
million acres of wetlands that originally existed in
the conterminous U.S. had been lost by 1980 to development
and other incompatible activities. In Colorado, wetlands
have been reduced by approximately 50%, or an estimated
1 million acres.
The reality of the situation was addressed by the Clean Water Act (sections 404 and 401), Bush Sr. Administration's "no-net-loss of wetlands" policy which was further augmented by the Clinton Administration's "long-term gains of wetlands". This policy has not been challenged by the G.W. Bush administration. In 2002, regulatory
guidelines were established which defined more clearly
the responsibilities of the primary wetlands impact
permitting oversight agency, the Army Corps of Engineers,
and the procedures associated with the public/private
partnerships of wetlands mitigation banking.
What is a Wetlands
A wetlands mitigation bank is a specific site where wetlands and aquatic resources are restored, created and/or enhanced expressly for the purpose of providing legally required compensatory mitigation in advance of authorized, unavoidable impacts to similar wetland resources. In an ideal world, wetlands should not be damaged or destroyed, however, there will always be impacts with ever increasing development and population pressures. High quality banks are a good solution to the 'no-net loss' mandate.
A bank is licensed by the Army Corps of Engineers and a variety of other pertinent state and federal agencies through a "bank instrument", an expensive comprehensive design and operations plan that is submitted to an extensive review and approval process. An expansive set of ecological, functional
and associated development benchmarks, annual monitoring
and other reporting as well as conservation easement
requirements for maintenance of the wetlands in perpetuity
are just a few of the responsibilities of bank operators.
Financial bonds are also required to benchmark bank
developments and quality.
A wetlands mitigation
bank generally serves the watershed or river basin
in which it is located, with a range of predetermined
elevation and vegetative types it can accommodate for
mitigation. According to generally accepted interpretations
of the 2002 policy guidelines for the ACOE, if a bank
is located in a watershed in which an impact is taking
place, it is to be one of the first alternatives to
be considered because 90% of on-site mitigations fail,
according to the Army Corps of Engineers. The advantage
of using a bank for mitigation over on-site and specific
impact off-site mitigation is because banks are large
and consequently ecologically functioning systems in
which many small impacts can be mitigated successfully.
Over the life of a bank, it must be annually monitored, properly managed and maintained, all of which must be reflected in legally required reports to the ACOE. This can include checking monitor wells, rotating prescribed burns, continuing weed maintenance, plantings, fencing, irrigating and water-related responsibilities, and providing oversight of its open space character and status.