Video Icon

Video: Mitigation - Regulatory

Video by Annie ChambersSmall RSS IconSubscriptions Icon

Embed code ▼

This video is an introduction to mitigation. For detailed information on this topic please visit the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' website. Under the Clean Water Act, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers authorizes activities where dredged or fill material is discharged into waters of the United States. The objective of this law is to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the nation’s waters, including wetlands. When a proposed project or action will create unavoidable impacts on the nation’s aquatic resources, the Corps may require mitigation as a condition of the Department of the Army permit. What is meant by “mitigation?” How is the requirement for mitigation met? It is important to understand that mitigation is a sequential process . Mitigation, or reducing impacts to aquatic resources, is accomplished through avoidance, minimization and compensation. When submitting a project proposal for a permit, an applicant must clearly demonstrate that every effort has been made to avoid impacts to waters of the United States. Avoiding impacts to waters and wetlands can be accomplished in several ways. One way is by planning to construct the project on an alternate site or alternate portion of the site that doesn’t impact wetlands. If impacts to wetlands are completely avoided, no permit is required. If impacts to aquatic resources cannot be avoided, the applicant must then demonstrate efforts to decrease, or minimize, impacts to wetlands and water bodies. Impacts may be minimized by reducing the footprint, or size, of a proposed project, or by moving the project to an area of the site that affects fewer acres of wetlands. The applicant can also minimize the impact by the placement of silt fences and sod to prevent soil and storm water runoff from entering wetlands. The first two steps of avoidance and minimization must be addressed first, and in that order. Even after these steps are addressed, a project that impacts aquatic resources typically requires some form of compensation. Compensation means to make up for unavoidable adverse impacts to wetlands. The Corps and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have agreed that the Corps would “strive to avoid or offset unavoidable adverse impacts to existing aquatic resources.” The Corps will also strive to achieve a goal of “no overall net loss of functions and services of wetlands.” Mitigating environmental impacts of development actions on the nation’s wetlands and other aquatic resources is a central premise of federal wetlands programs. It is just one of the ways in which the Corps balances decisions to meet both economic and environmental needs. Most commonly, compensatory mitigation involves the creation, enhancement or restoration of wetlands and their functions. Wetland functions include food chain production, habitat, shoreline protection, and water filtration, purification, storage and recharge. In some cases, compensatory mitigation can include the preservation of unique and valuable wetlands and their associated upland areas. The Corps’ goal is to have sustainable compensation that will meet the needs of the watershed in which the impacts occurred. A wetlands mitigation bank is a wetland area that has been restored, established, enhanced or preserved and is then set aside to compensate for future conversions of wetlands for development activities. Banking consolidates small, fragmented projects into one large site as compensation for unavoidable wetland losses. In-lieu fee mitigation occurs when a permittee provides funds to an in-lieu-fee sponsor, like a public agency or non-profit organization. The sponsor collects and manages the funds to build and maintain the mitigation site, and is responsible for its success. In addition, an applicant may propose to implement their own mitigation plan. Such compensation can be in a watershed context, done onsite or offsite, and can be in kind or out of kind. Basically, onsite means replacing the wetlands you impacted on your project site and offsite means replacing those wetlands on some other property. And in-kind means, for example, replacing a wet prairie with a wet prairie. Whereas out-of-kind means replacing that wet prairie with a fresh water marsh. According to Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, before proposing compensatory mitigation, the applicant should demonstrate that they have taken all measures possible to avoid and minimize impacts. Mitigation, or reduction of impacts, helps the nation achieve “no net loss” of the valuable functions that aquatic resources provide for people, wild life and a healthy ecosystem. [Footnote]: Before beginning any project in waters of the United States, be sure to find out if a Department of the Army permit is required. While this video attempts to give a general overview of the regulatory process, viewers should refer to the actual laws, regulations and guidance for complete and current information.

Web Views
High-Res. Downloads

Podcast Hits

Public Domain Mark
This work, Mitigation - Regulatory, by Annie Chambers, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.

Date Taken:07.12.2012

Date Posted:07.12.2012 11:21AM


Video ID:148990




Location:FL, US

More Like This

  • This video is an introduction to Clean Water Act, Section 404(b)(1). For detailed information on this topic please visit the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' website. Also available in high definition 

From its earliest days as the nation’s public engineering agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ responsibilities included ensuring safe and accessible waterways for military and commercial navigation.
Section 404 of the Clean Water Act of 1972 regulates the discharge of dredged or fill material into waters of the United States, including wetlands. According to guidelines issued under Section 404(b)(1) the Corps is responsible for evaluating applications for these activities and permits the least environmentally damaging practical alternative.

By “practical alternatives,” we mean those that are:

Available – considering the availability for obtaining, expanding, possessing, utilizing and managing; and those that are:

Feasible – This considers cost, technology and logistics in light of the overall project purpose. 

The Corps determines the overall project purpose from the perspectives of both the applicant and the public. Only then does the Corps determines the range of practical alternatives. One consideration is whether or not the project is water dependent.  
During the evaluation process the Corps considers several aspects such as quality of waters, the physical and chemical aspects and the biological aspect. 

The Corps may not permit any discharge if it will cause or contribute to the significant loss of quality of waters of the United States. Loss of quality is evaluated from several perspectives, including human health and welfare, water supply, recreation, aesthetics and economic value.
Other important quality factors include special aquatic sites such as wetlands, coral reefs, refuges, mudflats, sanctuaries, preserves and vegetated shallows.

Aquatic and ecosystem diversity, productivity and life stages are also considered as important quality factors.

Discharges will also not be permitted if they violate state water quality or toxic effluent standards. This also means that any discharge that jeopardizes endangered or threatened species, or violate a protected marine sanctuary, will not be permitted.

The Corps evaluates the potential short-term and long-term effects – both individual and cumulative – of proposed discharge of dredged or fill material on the physical, chemical and biological components of the aquatic ecosystem.

In terms of physical and chemical aspects, the Corps considers the substrate, or surface of the wetlands, turbidity, or particles of fine-grained minerals suspended in the water column, and water clarity, nutrients, pH and temperature, since all of this can contribute to the water body’s ability to sustain life.

Biological aspects include the potential adverse impact to threatened or endangered species or their habitat; fish, crustaceans, mollusks and other organisms in the food chain; resident and transient mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. If the sustainability of any of these is compromised, due to the proposed project, a permit will not be granted by the Corps.

In addition to considering the least environmentally damaging practical alternative, permit applicants are also required to minimize potential adverse impacts to aquatic ecosystems through a sequential process to avoid – then minimize – then compensate for – impacts. The ultimate goal is no net loss of wetland functions and services.
Some of the actions that may be considered to minimize adverse effects on the aquatic environment include:

Confining or limiting the amount of material to be discharged per unit of time;

Selecting a disposal site with a substrate similar to that being discharged, such as discharging sand on sand or mud on mud; 

Discharging at sites where containment levees, sediment basins and cover crops help to reduce erosion;

Using lined containment areas to reduce leaching; and

Using silt curtains to control runoff.

Significant damage could be done to sensitive and valuable ecosystems such as wetlands without the protective guidelines of Section 404(b)(1) of the Clean Water Act being applied within the Corps’ regulatory program.  Unauthorized discharge of dredged or fill material could alter water circulation and light penetration. It can also create extremes in water inundation or change salinity patterns. These things, along with other undesirable and damaging effects, would have devastating consequences for fish, wildlife and people.  

The Corps strives to make fair, balanced and flexible decisions that meet both economic and environmental needs. In doing so, under this guidance, practical alternatives and cumulative impacts must be considered and potential adverse impacts to aquatic resources must be minimized and compensated for when those impacts are unavoidable.
  • This video is an introduction to Alternatives Analysis. For detailed information on this topic please visit the US Army Corps of Engineers' website. 

The Corps’ regulatory program requires applicants to demonstrate that a proposed project to dredge and/or fill waters of the United States is the “least environmentally damaging practical alternative” to achieve the project’s purpose. We refer to this as the LEDPA. To meet this requirement, the applicant conducts an alternatives analysis as required by the Clean Water Act, Section 404(b)(1). 

Under this requirement, a project must be both practical and the least environmentally damaging alternative. There must be an attempt to avoid impacts rather than compensate for them.

Let’s look at an example of an alternative analysis. An applicant proposes a 20,000-square-foot grocery store with a parking lot on site A. His range of alternatives included three alternate locations for the grocery store – sites B, C and D.  Upon reviewing the applicant’s original range of alternatives, the Corps determined the applicant needed to provide additional alternatives. Specifically, the Corps asked the applicant to consider moving the project to site B and minimizing impacts through a smaller building, and an elevated parking structure. Upon analysis, the Corps determined the LEDPA was an 18,000-square-foot building with an on-grade parking lot, located on site B. In this example, the criteria used to determine the practicality of alternatives included land cost, percentage of wetlands, proximity to major roads, parking structure cost and market demand.

So, as a project purpose is identified, the applicant develops a range of alternatives, including the alternative specified in the permit application. Additional alternatives may also develop during project review and will also be evaluated. The Least Environmentally Damaging Practical Alternative, or LEDPA, will be determined from this range. Specific criteria are also developed, to use in determining the practicality of alternatives and eliminating the non-practical alternatives. This is what we call the alternatives analysis.

The permit applicant must provide sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the proposed project is the LEDPA.  The applicant must also show that there are no practical alternatives, including non-aquatic, to the proposed discharge.

A non water-dependent project means the project does not need to be located near a water body to achieve its purpose. For example, non water-dependent projects include grocery stores or housing subdivisions.  So when an applicant proposes placing a grocery store in an aquatic resource, the Corps presumes that practical alternatives do exist.  

Conversely, when a project is water dependent like a marina or a boat ramp, it requires proximity to an aquatic resource to achieve the basic project purpose. In this case, the Corps presumes that practical alternatives do not exist.

This alternative analysis is most effective when it is addressed by the permit applicant before the application is submitted. The Corps will only consider practical alternatives. “Practical alternatives” are those that are available and capable of being done after considering cost, existing technology and logistics in light of the overall project purpose.  Please also refer to the video on Clean Water Act Section 404(b)(1) Guidelines for further information on practical alternatives.

While the applicant bears the burden of demonstrating that no less environmentally damaging practical alternative is available, the Corps determines whether the LEDPA has been selected. The Corps is neither a proponent nor opponent of any permit proposal.

Once the LEDPA is determined, the applicant must take all appropriate and practical steps to minimize the potential adverse impacts on the aquatic environment. 

The mitigation sequence is the same as it is for all projects that impact aquatic resources – first, avoid impacts; then minimize impacts to the greatest extent possible; and finally compensate for the impacts.
As with every other aspect of the Corps regulatory program, the alternatives analysis component must be fair, balanced and objective.  

When each proposed project is reviewed under these guidelines, the resulting projects have a greater inclination to be protective of the environment. This supports reasonable development and economic benefits, providing a more sustainable environment for our future.

[Footnote]: Before beginning any project in waters of the United States, be sure to find out if a Department of the Army permit is required. While this video attempts to give a general overview of the regulatory process, viewers should refer to the actual laws, regulations and guidance for complete and current information.
  • The goal of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ permit evaluation process is to ensure that permit decisions balance the need for proposed development with the protection of the nation’s aquatic environment.  

In reviewing project proposals, the Corps considers them in the context of the watershed. A watershed is an entire region that drains into a particular water body such as a lake, river or ocean. When a project is proposed, the Corps looks not only at what is being done, and how it’s affecting the project location, but how that project will affect the bigger picture.  

Cumulative impact assessment includes the review of direct and indirect impacts. A direct impact may be the construction of a single family home subdivision. Examples of an indirect impact may be any future construction such as road infrastructure or water quality degradation downstream.

The Corps also considers the implementation of past, present and reasonably foreseeable projects in the vicinity of a project area. For example, with a residential community now present, there would be a need for future development such as fire stations, hospitals and schools.

Taking all these factors into consideration, the Corps is able to address potential impacts to aquatic resources on a more comprehensive, system-wide level.

In its Environmental Operating Principles, the Corps pledged to strive to achieve environmental sustainability. Whether the Corps builds a project, or approves permits for projects to be built by others, it advocates that an environment maintained in a healthy, diverse and sustainable condition is necessary to support life. 

The consideration of cumulative impacts is vital to achieving a sustainable environment. Let’s take a closer look at cumulative impacts and how they are considered in the regulatory process.

Cumulative impacts can result from individually minor but collectively significant actions taking place over a period of time or distance. 

In other words, a single family subdivision impacting two acres of wetlands may be individually minor. However, over time, the need for the road infrastructure, hospitals, schools and fire station; resulting in additional wetland impacts, may be unacceptable.

In order to weigh the cumulative impact of a proposed project, here are some of the things that the Corps considers:

Is the aquatic resource currently in a sustainable state, given past, present and reasonably foreseeable future actions?
Is the health of the aquatic resource declining because of human activity?

Have conservation actions or recovery plans reversed a declining trend for the resource, and helped it return to a healthy state?

Cumulative impact assessments consider past, present and anticipated future impacts within a watershed, helping to achieve the Corps’ goal of no net loss of wetland functions and services. In order to achieve this goal, the Corps looks into various aspects like:

The loss of locally important wetland functions and services;

The potential for successful compensatory mitigation;

The temporary loss of wetland functions and services during the time required for the compensatory wetlands to become fully functional;

The potential for habitat to be fragmented or broken up;

The potential to reverse a trend for systematic wetlands or related ecosystem restoration;

The potential for cumulative impacts to wetlands to affect other resources, such as animal or plant species that depend upon healthy wetland habitat.

Together, these considerations help to achieve the Corps’ goal of a sustainable environment with “no net loss of wetland functions or services.”

The Corps recognizes the interdependence of life and the physical environment.  Striving for balance and synergy between development activities and natural systems that support and reinforce one another is the cornerstone of the Corps’ regulatory program.
  • This video is an introduction to Regulatory Process 101. For detailed information on this topic, please visit the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' website.

The regulatory mission of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is to protect the nation’s aquatic resources while allowing reasonable development through fair, flexible and balanced permit decisions.  
If a proposed project, big or small, has potential to impact waters of the United States, then a permit must be requested from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 made the Corps responsible for providing protection and maintenance of the nation’s navigable waterways.  This act also authorized the Corps with regulatory responsibility for the nation’s navigable waterways.

According to the Clean Water Act of 1972, the Corps was authorized to be the regulatory body for dredging and filling of waters of the United States, including many wetlands. Additionally, the Corps was given regulatory authority under Section 103 of the Marine Protection Research and Sanctuaries Act.

The regulatory process is by no means a “cookie cutter” approach.  Every project is unique.  Every permit application is reviewed within the same laws and regulations.     

The Corps supports a strong partnership with the state in regulating water resource development . The Corps works cooperatively with states in reviewing the environmental impacts of proposed projects.
One form of permit authorization used by the Corps is the Individual Permit. There are three distinct steps in the process of reviewing individual, project-specific applications. These are pre-application, or pre-app, a formal review, evaluation and decision.

Major project proposals typically include pre-application consultation, with meetings between the applicant, Corps, resource agencies and others.  The pre-app gives the applicant a general idea of the feasibility of available alternatives to accomplish the overall project.

It also allows discussions about measures to reduce impacts on the aquatic environment.

The consultation between the applicant and the Corps informs the applicant about factors the Corps considers in the decision-making process, which enables more efficient processing of the application.
A formal review follows submission of a completed application for a permit, during which the Corps determines if it has geographic and activity jurisdiction, or authority, over a proposed project and consults with local, state and federal agencies. 

Shortly after receiving a complete permit application, the Corps issues a public notice about the proposed project, opening a public comment period. A permit application is considered complete only when all relevant information and documents have been provided by the applicant. Sometimes the Corps must request additional information and hold its evaluation until that information is received.

During the public comment period, members of the public may review a project proposal and submit comments to the Corps, either opposing or supporting the project. The Corps considers these comments as it reviews all applicable material during its evaluation of the application.

The project manager evaluates the impacts of the project and all comments received, negotiates modifications, if necessary; and drafts the required documentation to support a recommended permit decision. 

Evaluation may include a discussion of the environmental impacts of the project; findings of the public interest review process, and inclusion of any special evaluation required by the type of proposed activity, such as compliance with ocean dumping criteria or impact on endangered species or historic properties.

When all considerations are satisfied and all documentation is completed, the district commander, having responsibility for the geographic area in which the proposed project resides, makes a decision to issue or deny a Department of the Army permit.

The Corps makes every effort to process Individual Permits within 120 days of receipt of the complete application.

Some controversial projects, or projects dealing with special considerations, such as endangered species, may take longer.  Special conditions, such as compensatory mitigation, may be applied to a permit when it is issued.

In making its decision, the Corps considers the value of the aquatic ecosystems involved, the views of federal, state and local agencies and interest groups, and 21 public interest factors.

Some minor activities in the United States and its territories may be authorized through a General Permit.  General Permits are issued on a nationwide or regional basis for projects that are substantially similar in nature and cause only minimal individual or cumulative impacts. These types of permits are reviewed every five years.

Some of the types of activities that may be authorized with a General Permit are aids to navigation, bank stabilization, aquatic habitat restoration, boat ramp construction and modifications to existing marinas.

The Corps’ professional, well-trained team of specialists, many who have academic degrees in biology and environmental sciences, are dedicated to public service. The Corps’ regulatory mission is their mission, and they all strive to achieve fair and equitable decisions; reasonable use of private property;
infrastructure development; economic growth and the offsetting of impacts to the aquatic environment through restoration, enhancement and the creation and preservation of aquatic functions and services.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ regulatory program includes alternative analysis considerations, evaluating individual as well as cumulative impacts and potential impacts to endangered species and cultural resources; and requiring compensatory mitigation when necessary.  In its evaluation process, the Corps delineates, or identifies, wetlands, reviews projects relative to 21 public interest factors and follows Clean Water Act guidelines. 

Each of these topics will be introduced further in a series of companion videos, and I invite you to view each of them and learn more about the Corps’ regulatory program and how the Corps works to serve the public and protect the environment.

Before beginning any project in waters of the United States, be sure to find out if a Department of the Army permit is required. While this video attempts to give a general overview of the regulatory process, viewers should refer to the actual laws, regulations and guidance for complete and current information.


  • Army
  • Marines
  • Navy
  • Air Force
  • Coast Guard
  • National Guard




  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Youtube
  • Flickr