Why Mitigation?

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 Mitigation Bank?

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.

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