Stress: Regulation of Wetlands in the United States
Regulation of Wetlands in the United States
Defining Wetlands and their Value
A wetland refers to a place where water covers the soil. A wetland is a saturated land that comprises of swamps or marshes. Lewis defines a wetland as, "an ecosystem that depends on constant or recurrent, shallow inundation or saturation at or near the surface of the substrate" (p.3). He further ascertains that the minimum necessary qualities of a wetland are sustained inundation, saturation or recurrent at or near the surface and the existence of chemical, biological and physical facets that reflect recurrent, saturation and sustained inundation (Lewis 3). The major diagnostic wetland features include hydrophytic vegetation and hydric soils. These characteristics present biotic, anthropogenic or physicochemical features apart from where the growth of these aspects has been blocked (Lewis 3). The wetlands are located near rivers, oceans, lakes or swamps, and they form part of the basis of a country's water resources. In this regard, wetlands are significant to communities living downstream. They are also crucial to well-being of waterways, and they trap floodwaters, feed downstream waters, remove pollution, offer wildlife and fish some habitat besides recharging supplies from groundwater.
Apparently, wetlands are compellers of a country's economy given that they play a major role in hunting, recreation, fishing and agriculture. The wetlands comprise of marshes, bogs and swamps and they differ considerably because of disparities in climate, soils, water chemistry, hydrology, topography among other factors (Lewis 3). Wetlands are located in flood plains and alongside waterways. Nevertheless, some of these wetlands hold no obvious link to surface waters like ocean, lakes and rivers, but they hold crucial groundwater links.
Wetlands are important resources as they regulate ecosystem services; provide livelihood and cultural services. The rich biodiversity and visual beauty of wetlands make people to value these places for economic and social gains (Lewis 3). This is because wetlands operate as reservoirs for the most precious commodity in humanity, water, and absorb excess water that could result in destructive floods. Wetlands purify the waters that go through them and absorb some of the carbon dioxide that human beings pump into the air.
All ecosystems that comprises of green plants emit carbon dioxide. Plants emit carbon dioxide gas, which sinks into wetlands. However, human demands on wetlands have exceeded these significant services. This is because scores of wetlands in the world are exploited in a manner that is not sustainable. Peat has been removed from scores of the great blogs around the world where extensive wetland areas have been drained for forestry (Lewis 3). Wetlands offer a natural system for control of flood besides providing a substantial income source to human beings given that wetlands are a good source of food and offer recreation prospects. Wetlands are quite significant, but they are misused a trend that triggers wetland regulations.
The History of Wetland Regulation in the U.S.
Until recently, policies of the U.S. federal government were aimed at encouraging and subsidizing the conversion of wetlands to drained or filled lands that could be utilized for agricultural purposes or other purposes that are not compatible with the subsistence of wetlands. These federal policies besides other extensive private efforts of a similar temperament lowered the aggregate acreage of wetlands in the contiguous U.S. By almost one hundred and seventeen million acres or half of the total acreage by mid 1980s (Hopper 208). While this conversion of wetlands offered expansive amounts of novel cropland and boosted the agricultural ability of the United States, besides eliminating some of the socioeconomic troubles linked to wetlands, lowered scores of the useful characteristics of wetlands.
The valuable qualities of wetlands include maintenance of water quality and water flow support. A more and more broad apprehension for these losses formed political support for detailed protection of wetlands. Federal wetlands regulation started to take effect on a broad scale in the 1970s and it now comprises of virtually all wetlands. Notably, wetlands are the only ecosystem exclusively controlled across all private and public lands in the United States. The 1972 amendments to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act gave the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the EPA (environmental Protection agency) power to regulate waters in the United States.
The 1972 Act coverage extended to wetlands, but was intently interpreted at first and expanded to only fifteen percent of the total acreage of wetlands in the United States. Between 1972 and 1977, judicial decisions considerably widened the coverage to the law and formed a need for a regulatory definition of wetlands and federal conventions through which a definition of wetland could be used. The USACE made final regulatory definition in 1977. However, USACE delegated to its district officers the formation of processes for delineating and indentifying wetlands. The 1977 Federal Water Pollution Control Act Section 404 amendments (Clean Water Act) ascertained the federal commitment to wetlands regulation and wide national application of the 1977 Act to wetlands was maintained judicially in 1985. In 1985, the Food Security Act introduced an isolated regulation wetland definition for application to agricultural lands.
After foreseeing and realizing the call for increased national uniformity in the classification and demarcation of wetlands, the USACE issued a national demarcation manual in 1987 otherwise referred to as 1987 Corps manual. USACE worked together with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), EPA in the creation of a revised manual, which they released in 1989. They named the manual as the 1989 Interagency manual. However, this manual received strong criticism from groups and individuals who viewed it as being extremely predisposed towards the control of lands that not appropriately categorized as wetlands.
A second trial in the formation of a revised manual got underway during the Bush Administration in 1991 (1991 proposed revisions). Similarly, the 1991 proposed revisions received much criticism because of excluding scores of wetlands from the control coverage. Implementation of the 1991 revision never took place. As a result, EPA and USACE have constantly used the 1987 Corps manual (Connolly, Johnson and Stephen 18) . However, the NRCS ( National Resources Conversation Services) formerly known as the Soil Conversation Service had put into practice the 1985 Food Security Act via the creation of an isolated demarcation manual for application on agricultural lands.
The formation and removal of the 1989 interagency manual and proposed revisions of 1991 as well as the espousal of an isolated manual selected specially for agricultural land lead to uncertainty and confusion regarding technical and scientific validity of federal regulatory process in the delineation and identification of wetlands. In 1993, the congress requested that EPA direct the National Research Council to establish a committee to evaluate the validity and adequacy of wetland classifications. The need to understand the basis for application of definitions via delineation manuals, offers understanding of the functions and structure of wetlands, and regional disparities among wetlands.
The regulation description of wetlands and the processes through which wetlands are delineated and identified are of major practical concern given the nationwide wetlands regulations. If flawed procedures and flawed definitions lead to the description of wetlands where wetlands never subsists, landowners can unjustifiably lose their flexibility to build up land for agricultural purposes. Procedural and definitional flaws that cause the exclusion of true wetlands cannot mirror the objective of judicial decisions and legislation that forms the federal regulatory powers over wetlands. The function of NRC committee is to assess the technical and scientific foundation delineation and identification of wetlands, and not to assess social or economic concerns linked to wetlands.
Through comparing the 1989 interagency manual and the proposed revisions of 1991 with 1987 Corps manual, the NRC committee confirmed that the 1989 interagency manual would offer the most extensive interpretation of boundaries of wetlands. The 1987 Corps manual would offer demarcations akin to those proposed by the interagency manual of 1991. Demarcation by application of the proposed revisions of 1991 would be more restrictive than the provisions of both the 1989 and 1987 manuals. This is because the 1991 proposed revisions would instigate automatic exclusion of many true wetlands through unfeasible documentation requirements.
Wetlands Regulation under Clean Water Act
Several national environmental policies safeguard the wetlands of the United States through regulating activities such as filling and dredging of wetlands. Among these, environmental polices are the 1899 River and Harbors Act, numerous Farm Bills that tie subsidies from agriculture to wetlands conservation and North America Wetlands Conservation Act. These policies depend on non-regulatory and regulatory tools such as subsidies credits to safeguard wetlands. The most important policy that addresses wetlands is the 1972 Clean Water Act of 1972 and its amendments (Leonard 31). The Clean Water Act controls the country's surface waters through introducing ambitious water quality objectives besides creating a permitting system to regulate discharges into the United States waters.
Clean Water Act section 404 gives the Environment Protection Agency power to control the discharge of dredged fill material into navigable waters.…