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Wetlands Mitigation, South Carolina
Improving Conservation Outcomes
When wetlands are filled, the Clean Water Act requires mitigation to ensure “no net loss” of this ecological resource. This means that a comparable wetland must be created or restored, ideally in the same watershed. Increasingly this is done by purchasing credits from a “mitigation bank,” which has created, restored, or preserved wetlands that can compensate for wetlands lost elsewhere.
Unfortunately, South Carolina has a long history of applying wetlands mitigation funds to projects that fail to achieve meaningful conservation results. They often fall short of fully offsetting the permitted impacts on lost or damaged wetlands, and sometimes the Army Corps of Engineers allows mitigation far away from the affected watershed.
Making Strategic Use of a New Mitigation Rule
To address current shortcomings in the state’s mitigation programs, SELC will make optimum use of a wetlands mitigation rule issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Corps of Engineers in 2008.
The new rule establishes a preference for
- using mitigation banks to restore, create, or preserve wetlands;
- locating these banks in areas where the benefits to downstream aquatic ecosystems can be maximized; and
- taking a watershed-based approach to help ensure that mitigation fully compensates the public for wetland losses where they occur.
A Funding Source for Conservation
Private developers and government agencies (particularly the South Carolina Department of Transportation) spend tens of millions of dollars on mitigation each year. If these funds were applied strategically, significant conservation results could be achieved.
Strategic Placement of Mitigation Banks
Working with scientists and with our partners on the South Carolina coast, SELC is developing policy proposals for improving mitigation practices in the state, and we are identifying strategic areas where mitigation banks should be established. For example, by encouraging the placement of new mitigation banks next to areas already protected, we can help create large expanses of unbroken wetland habitat.
Making Sure the Corps Does Its Job
SELC will also make certain that no ecologically valuable wetland is overlooked in this process. In recent years, U.S. Supreme Court rulings on federal water protections have essentially left it to the Corps of Engineers to determine, on a case-by-case basis, whether certain “isolated” wetlands fall under federal safeguards. These decisions are often erroneous. SELC is challenging Corps determinations that fail to recognize when a wetland is federally protected and should not be destroyed without going through the permitting process.
Greater vigilance by the Corps will result in greater protections for wetlands, more required mitigation, and more opportunities for better conservation outcomes.