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Effects of Section 404 Permits on Wetlans in North Dakota


File Examinations
In May and June 1992, I reviewed files of the Bismarck Regulatory Office of the corps and of the Ecological Services office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on all discharges authorized by individual permits and by nationwide permits 13, 14, and 26 during January 1987 through December 1991. My selection of these permit types was based on several factors including frequency of use, potential effects of each permit on wetlands, feasibility of monitoring, and interest expressed by corps and service personnel. Three factors influenced the selection of this time frame: (1) personnel of the Regulatory Office and the Ecological Services office in Bismarck recommended this period because in 1987, the North Dakota state legislature enacted a no-net-loss program for wetlands (D. A. Spryncynatyk North Dakota State Engineers, Bismarck, North Dakota, unpublished report); (2) also in 1987, the Bismarck Regulatory Office began more critical reviews of proposed discharges into wetlands to minimize the loss of wetland values; and (3) permits after 21 January 1992 were issued under the revised and expanded set of nationwide permits. Few discharges had been authorized under the revised regulations when I began my study.

Because inspections of all discharges that were permitted during 1987-91 were not feasible, I randomly selected a subset of discharges in the prairie pothole region of North Dakota (Fig. 6). I excluded all livestock-watering ponds and wildlife-habitat enhancements from my study because service and corps personnel believed the effects on wetlands from discharges of these types were less uncertain. Inclusion of an authorized discharge in my review depended on (1) adequate information in the files about the location and type of discharge; (2) permission of the private landowner to visit the site of the discharge; and (3) completion of the proposed discharge and, if applicable, the mitigation. Mitigation, for this study, refers to the fifth part of the definition developed by the Presidents' Council on Environmental Quality: compensation for the impact by replacing or providing substitute resources or environments (40 C.F.R. 1500-1508).

GIF -- Map of Locations in North Dakota
Fig. 6. Locations of the 87 discharges reviewed for this study. Discharges were authorized under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act by nationwide permits 13, 14, and 26 and by individual permits; prairie pothole region of North Dakota, 1987-1991.

From the files, I identified the following for each reviewed discharge: (1) location of the discharge (including county, section, township and range, ownership, and waterbody), (2) purpose and magnitude of the discharge, (3) resource-agency recommendations (if applicable), (4) and special permit conditions (if applicable). I recorded the magnitudes of the wetland alterations, summarized the comments and recommendations of resource agencies on the predischarge notifications and public notices, and determined the extent of the corps' acceptance of those recommendations as special conditions of the permits.

National Wetlands Inventory (NWI; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Boston, Massachusetts, unpublished report) maps and aerial photographs of North Dakota provided baseline information on wetlands before discharges were made and allowed me to identify the affected wetland types (Cowardin et al. 1979). If information in the file was inadequate to locate the discharge on a NWI map or the map did not indicate a wetland in the discharge location, the wetland type was recorded as "unknown."

Field Examinations

Between June and August 1992, I visited each altered wetland. A representative from the Bismarck Regulatory Office of the corps accompanied me on these visits. During these visits, we attempted to determine each permit holder's compliance with conditions of the permit and to verify the magnitude of the alteration and the stated purpose of the discharge. We determined the magnitudes of the alterations by visual estimations and measurements in the field with a distance-measuring wheel and by pacing. We also examined the appropriateness of the material and its effectiveness in stabilizing a water-body bank (NWP 13); the existence of a culvert and circulation and flow of water in the wetland basin or stream channel (NWP 14); and, if applicable, implementation of the special conditions of the permit, including mitigation, by permit holders of NWP 26 (1-10 acres) and of individual permits. I compared the expected and observed magnitudes of the wetland alterations by determining the mean percent difference between the sizes of the stated alterations in the files and the actual sizes observed in the field.To gain a better understanding of the Section-404 regulatory process, I also attended interagency meetings between the corps, service, Soil Conservation Service, and state agencies that were held to discuss concerns about proposed discharges.

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