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Effects of a Legal Drain Clean-Out on Wetlands and
Waterbirds: A Recent Case History


The clean-out of Drain No. 11 from 1984 to 1986 in Sargent County, North Dakota caused the water regimes of three major wetlands in southeastern North Dakota to change from permanently flooded to temporarily flooded eliminating most of their value as migratory waterbird habitat. Because of their large sizes, stable water regimes, suitable interspersion of water and cover, and locations within the principal migration corridor of the Central Flyway, BBM provided key breeding areas for diving ducks and colonial-nesting waterbirds and internationally important staging habitat for arctic-nesting geese. The cumulative effect of loss of staging habitat has been to increase the magnitude of potential risk to midcontinent waterfowl populations from epizootics, particularly during periods of drought. The occurrence of avian cholera outbreaks in the eastern Dakotas and western Minnesota in 4 of the 5 past years (1989-94) (including epizootics at Lake Tewaukon and Kraft Slough in Sargent County in April 1991) underscores the need to maintain, and restore where necessary, a widely distributed wetland habitat base suitable for use by staging waterfowl, particularly in those parts of the PPR that lie within major waterfowl migration corridors. While acknowledging the high value of BBM to migratory waterbirds, a federal court took no steps to mitigate the effects of the clean-out of Drain No. 11 on waterfowl and other waterbirds. The findings of this study and related court actions suggest that clauses (f)(1)(C) and (f)(2) of Section 404 of the CWA do not provide protection for the needs of migratory waterfowl and other waterbird populations even when important breeding and staging areas are involved if wetlands are adjacent to legal drains and water regimes needed to support waterbird populations exist due to lack of drain maintenance.
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