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2011: The Year in Water and Wetlands

Ben Dappen

It was a turbulent year for water markets, with efforts to standardize offsetting procedures across jurisdictions gaining traction even as opponents of water markets – and, indeed, of environmental protection of any sort – dug in their heels as massive flooding along the Mississippi River underlined the economic value of healthy wetlands. Here is a look at some of our top water stories – and a chance for you to vote on your favorite water stories from all sources.

It was a turbulent year for water markets, with efforts to standardize offsetting procedures across jurisdictions gaining traction even as opponents of water markets – and, indeed, of environmental protection of any sort – dug in their heels as massive flooding along the Mississippi River underlined the economic value of healthy wetlands. Here is a look at some of our top water stories – and a chance for you to vote on your favorite water stories from all sources.

29 December 2011 | This was a contentious year for water and wetlands from the very start – at least for those in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed and in Florida’s  Everglades, where the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) faced legal challenges to its efforts to establish Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) that would curtail new loadings of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediments into already severely stressed watersheds.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the US, the Willamette Partnership was continuing to experiment with mechanisms that would deliver uniformity across borders, which will make for more efficient markets – and, more importantly, mitigation.

In March, World Water Day focused on the strain water supplies are feeling with growing populations.  The day allowed governments, organizations and corporations to highlight the innovative projects implemented around the world to assist cities as they combat the problems.

In April, the Florida dispute came to a head when US District Judge Alan Gold said that Florida state agencies “have not been true stewards of protecting the Everglades in recent years,” and that the federal EPA had the right to set quantitative nutrient limits on the entire state’s lakes, rivers, streams, and springs.  By year-end, this ruling was moot.

That same month, we examined the Canadian province of Alberta’s fuzzy interpretation of its longstanding policy of “no net loss” for wetlands, which the province determined only applies to settled areas.  Finalized regulations come out in 2011 or 2012, but ‘Green zone’ wetlands are unprotected til then – and it’s not looking good in the long term either.

The EPA, meanwhile, released a plan to demonstrate green infrastructure strategies in ten cities around the country and develop tools to compare the ecological and economic benefits of green versus gray infrastructure.

In April and May, the Mississippi River burst its banks, causing billions of dollars worth of damage over thousands of miles of riverfront – where wetlands once acted as floodplains. were on display with overflow attendance at the National Mitigation & Ecosystem Banking Conference in Baltimore against a backdrop of tough challenges to mitigation banks – the latest coming in the form of government cut-backs, which threaten not only to derail infrastructure improvements, but to slow the project approval process.

That same month, The Obama administration proposed a growing recognition of the risks that water poses and the new tools for measuring that risk.

In July, Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions launched a series of discussions on how environmental markets might provide opportunities for landowners to combine multiple revenue stream for a single parcel of land.  Leading programs are beginning to develop policy and pilots around “stacking” or combining ecosystem service payments or credits .   It’s not yet clear, however, how multi-credit systems and stacking can best be implemented.

In November, the US Forest Service released a series of maps highlighting the integral role forests play in providing clean drinking water.  The project, Forests to Faucets, features interactive maps that describe threats to watershed’s forests, like development, fire, insects and disease.

In December, two apparent victories were reversed.  First, the US EPA called off its push for federally-imposed numeric water quality standards for Florida waterbodies, and instead gave a preliminary blessing to standards developed by state officials, and then some members of Congress tried to introduce language into appropriations bills that would prohibit Army Corps of Engineers rulemaking to clarify Clean Water Act jurisdiction.  Fortunately, the rider didn’t make it into the final version that Obama signed on December 23rd.

Ben Dappen has worked with Forest Trends since November 2000 as Webmaster and IT Associate, and also provides design and publishing support. He also serves as a web developer for a number of Forest Trends' partners, including the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) and Ecoagriculture Partners. Ben graduated from Reed College in 2004 with a History degree.

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