Swamp rats, an 1899 act and why waters of the United States are important to you
By Clayton Church
Fort Worth District
FORT WORTH, Texas - The Fort Worth District's Regulatory Branch Web page may not be a page you have in your favorites or one that you may frequent often, but developers, consultants and the people who work in the branch use it every day to make decisions that impact just about every person in Texas.
The regulatory page at http://www.swf.usace.army.mil/Missions/Regulatory.aspx is affectionately referred to as the RATS page and if you go there you'll see this description:
Regulatory's Automated Tools System (RATS)
The animal depicted on this page is a regulatory swamp rat, Oryzomys regulatorius. It is the ultimate wetland specialist, at home in the playa lakes of west Texas as well as the big thicket in east Texas. Much like the regulatory staff, it is a hardy and resourceful species that adapts to the situation.
Visiting the "swamp" is necessary for those who may require a permit authorization for work under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (http://www.usace.army.mil/Portals/2/docs/civilworks/regulatory/materials/cwa_sec404doc.pdf) and or Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 (http://www.usace.army.mil/Portals/2/docs/civilworks/regulatory/materials/rhsec10.pdf).
The Branch has two sections, the Evaluation Section and the Compliance and Enforcement Section. The Fort Worth District covers two-thirds of the state of Texas, including Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio and Austin, which are some of the fastest growing cities in the nation.
There are many actions that trigger the need for a permit and some that cause minimal impacts can be accomplished under a nationwide permit, while others with greater impacts must be evaluated under the requirements of a standard permit.
Protection of the aquatic environment while allowing reasonable development through fair and balanced decisions is the mission of the Regulatory Branch. The trigger for a Section 404 permit is the discharge of dredged or fill material into waters of the United States according to Compliance and Enforcement Section Chief David Madden.
"We have direct interaction with the public dealing with permit actions on private property to minimize impacts, protecting water resources while allowing reasonable development," Madden added.
The Fort Worth District Regulatory program seeks to:
•Protect functions of the aquatic environment while rendering fair and reasonable decisions as efficiently as possible.
•Works regularly and effectively with numerous federal agencies, such as the Federal Highway Administration, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; state agencies, such as the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and Texas Department of Transportation; and regional and local agencies, such as the North Central Texas Council of Governments, Tarrant Regional Water District and the Lower Colorado River Authority.
•Expedites permit evaluations for high priority NCTCOG projects through a signed Memorandum of Agreement between the Corps and NCTCOG under Section 214 of the Water Resources Development Act of 2000, as amended.
•Regularly conducts outreach programs to educate the public about the Corps' Regulatory Program.
•Streamlines regulatory actions in areas determined to be national priorities, including national security, energy, transportation, and stream and wetland restoration.
•Handles permit applications for a large number of high-profile projects in the areas of residential, commercial and industrial development, energy production (primarily oil, gas and lignite), transportation (including very large projects in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex), and water supply development, including large proposed reservoir projects such as Lake Columbia and Lake Ralph Hall.
•Approves and oversees the operation of 22 mitigation banks located in north, east and central Texas, with approximately 36 bank proposals currently being evaluated.
•Handles a large number of permit actions (completed over 2,000 permit actions in Fiscal Year (FY) 2012).
•Conducted over 400 compliance and enforcement actions in FY 2012 to ensure adherence to the overall Regulatory Program.
•The District coordinates with various federal and state agencies and the Corps' Southwestern Division and Headquarters to ensure a seamless transition for updates of Nationwide permits.
The Fort Worth District continues to be innovative while still being within the intent of the regulations which govern permitting actions. One of the programs mentioned above is under Section 214 of the Water Resources Development Act of 2000 (WRDA 2000, Public Law No. 106-541) which allows the Corps of Engineers to accept and expend funds contributed by non-federal public entities to expedite the evaluation of permits under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Army.
"In 2008 a Memorandum of Understanding was signed with the North Central Texas Council of Governments to provide a mechanism to achieve efficiencies with the program. The program must serve the public interest with accountability and transparency; ensure impartial decision making and thorough review of permits. Results have improved communication, reduced impacts to the aquatic environment, reduced mitigation requirements, reduced time for permit decisions and elimination of unnecessary permits," according to Barry Osborn, regulatory specialist and program manager of the Section 214 program.
Water supply also impacts every Texan and while the Corps does not design, fund or construct water supply reservoirs, such undertakings usually require a Section 404 Permit, which would be required under the Clean Water Act, according to Madden.
The Corps is neither an opponent nor a proponent of proposed reservoir projects, but examines the environmental consequences on behalf of the public.
On large reservoir projects, an Environmental Impact Statement may be required. An EIS is a document required by the National Environmental Policy Act for actions that "significantly affect the quality of the human environment."
The Corps prepares an EIS to evaluate the environmental consequences of the proposed reservoir as well as other alternatives associated with increased water supply.
This process is designed to involve the public and gather the best available information regarding the project so decision-makers can be fully informed when they make their choices to ensure the reservoir is the least environmentally damaging practicable alternative.
This process also results in the assessment of compensatory mitigation which may be required to offset the losses to the aquatic resources impacted by the proposed reservoir.
Madden added that at the end of this process, the Corps would render a permit decision for the proposed reservoir.
Over the last three fiscal years, more than 2,000 actions were accomplished each year by the 19 members of the branch. Overall permitting actions can be streamlined by working together with the people of the Fort Worth District Regulatory Branch to ensure that protection of the aquatic environment is integrated into your planning process to the maximum extent practicable. Complete program details are available at http://www.swf.usace.army.mil/Missions/Regulatory.