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Video: Day in the Life of a Regulator

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Ever wonder what it is that our regulatory department does? Do you even know what a regulatory department is? Well here's how you'll find out. This video shows you how our regulators visit people's property when they let us know they want to do a project. We'll come out and check to see if the area is considered wetland and if they are able to do the project as they proposed. Learn more at the website at the end of the video!

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This work, Day in the Life of a Regulator, by Sean McBride, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.

Date Taken:04.16.2013

Date Posted:04.16.2013 2:40PM


Video ID:286910




Location:CHARLESTON, SC, USGlobe

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  • It sure is a great planet we live on!  And it's important to protect it so that people and all kinds of wildlife will be around for years to come. One of the best ways to help keep any place healthy is by taking care of the water.

Every living thing needs water to survive. Our thirsty bodies are made up of more water than anything else - including skin, bones and muscles.  And we have to keep up our bodies’ water supply to stay healthy. It’s the same for plants and animals. We all need clean water!

Did you know - water covers two thirds of the Earth?   And water provides food and helps people - and the products we need - get from one place to another.

A big part of the job for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is to protect and manage our nation’s water resources. That includes our oceans, lakes, rivers, streams and wetlands.    

You might be wondering why the Army has this job. Well, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is just one part of the Army. In fact, one of their first jobs ever was to make sure our waterways were protected, so our troops could safely use them while protecting all of us.  

Today, however, the Corps faces new kinds of challenges regarding our waterways and wetlands.  
Wetlands, by the way, are places where the soil is wet all or part of the time, like in marshes and swamps. The water may be fresh or salty. The water levels change all the time. Sometimes they are very wet, and sometimes, wetlands are dry!  

Wetlands are important because they can help prevent flooding. They filter and clean water.  Wetland plants and trees also help to keep our shorelines from washing away, and protect them during hurricanes and other storms.   

Wetlands are home to birds and other wildlife – giving them a place to nest, eat and raise their babies.   
But wetlands are very fragile. They're easily damaged and they could disappear. So, exactly how does the Corps protect, preserve and restore wetlands?

Well, one way is by making sure anyone who wants to build on, or live near a wetland asks for permission first. If the Corps decides that a project is important to people and won’t harm the environment, they give permission to build it.

The Corps also makes sure that if you use up wetlands in one place, you make up for it by creating or protecting wetlands someplace else. This way you have to replace what you use. It’s kind of like recycling, and we all know how important that is. Pretty cool, huh?

Not everyone receives permission for their projects. It's not automatic. The Corps looks at lots of information before they give permission for a project, and they ask a lot of people for their opinions, too.  

For instance, caring for the environment is especially important for protecting endangered species.
Endangered species are plants and animals that are in danger of becoming extinct. That means they will be gone – forever! There are more than 1,000 species that are endangered, from the tiniest insects to gigantic whales, and from cactus to coral!     

Coral reefs are fragile and contain endangered species, too. If they disappear, so will the fish and other sea life that depends on the reefs for food and shelter.

Protecting these special places is so important because they are home to many creatures that need them to survive. That's why, when deciding whether to give permission, the Corps first likes to make sure there will be enough living space and food for all wildlife.  

The Corps is concerned about making sure water resources meet the needs of people, too.

Our waterways are used for a lot of other things... like recreation, transportation and making electricity.  

Having plenty of clean water provides lots of fun for kids of all ages! Whether you like splashing at the beach, riding in a boat, or snorkeling and seeing the world from a fish’s point of view, water is an important part of the picture!

Waterways, like rivers, help to keep our country safe and strong by providing “water highways” to move people and products from one place to another.

These waterways must be maintained and kept clear so they are safe for boats to use. Sometimes this means that sand and other material on the bottom of the waterway must be moved out of the way to make it deep enough for boats to use. The Corps gives permission for these types of projects, too.  

Water is also a powerful source of energy, which we call hydropower. Thousands of years ago, water was used to turn wheels that ground wheat into flour. Now, dams and other structures are built to hold water back, and the water is used to generate electricity. Hydropower is a popular source of energy because as long as we have rain, we will never use it all up!

Another thing the Corps considers when managing our waterways is how everything might be connected. For example, some wetlands are connected to creeks or streams, streams are connected to rivers, and rivers are connected to lakes or oceans.

So understanding these connections can be real helpful when deciding whether or not to allow a project to happen. Because something that affects a wetland has the potential to affect many other – and bigger – water bodies and ecosystems.

Now imagine what a great job it would be protect, preserve and restore our waterways and wetlands. This could be you!  You could be a scientist or an engineer, reviewing projects, giving permission and protecting the environment.

It's all possible. Just stay in school and study hard. And who knows... maybe one day you'll be part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, helping to keep our planet healthy for people and wildlife too!     

To learn more about what the Corps does, and possible careers with the Corps, please visit their website.
  • This video is an introduction to wetland delineation and regional supplements. For detailed information on this topic please visit the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' website.

How do we identify wetlands, and why is that important? 

And – why does the Corps of Engineers care about identifying wetlands?

One of the laws that governs the Corps’ regulatory program is the Clean Water Act of 1972.  Section 404 of the law sets guidelines for protecting the nation’s waters from damage that results from the discharge of dredged or fill material.  

The Corps of Engineers regulates, through Department of the Army permits, activities that could result in pollutants being placed in the nation’s waters. Such activities may include dredging waterways for navigation, clearing land to prepare for development, and constructing roads, levees, dikes and dams.

While waters such as streams, rivers and lakes are easy to identify, wetland characteristics are not always as obvious.

That’s right. In fact, wetlands are not always “wet.” A wetland is an area that is inundated, or covered by, water – but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is soaked all the time. 

Water may saturate a wetland either on a permanent or periodic basis.  But regardless of their degree of wetness, wetlands are a valuable and important part of the ecosystem.

Wetlands perform a variety of functions that are important for environmental health. They provide food and habitat where a variety of species nest, reproduce and raise their young and where they hide and rest.   

They protect from wave action that erodes the shoreline and threatens shoreline stability.

They serve as storage areas to hold storm and flood waters, preventing them from spreading, damaging property and potentially taking lives.  

They work as nature’s filter, purifying water as it passes through them; and as a natural recharge area – where ground water and surface water meet.

Because wetlands are so important, and because the Corps administers the program that permits activities in them, we identify them by looking for the characteristics that make a wetland, a wetland! This process is called wetland delineation because we delineate, or identify the boundaries of, wetlands by carefully examining three characteristics.  

One indicator of a wetland is the type of vegetation that grows in it. Wetland vegetation is called hydrophytic vegetation, because the plants grow in wet conditions. There are nearly 5,000 different wetland plant types in the United States.

Another wetland indicator is soil. There are almost 2,000 wetland, or hydric, soils in the nation. Hydric soils may have a dark, dull color below the surface or may consist of sandy soil with streaks that stain when rubbed between the fingers. The soils may consist of decayed plant material and have the odor of rotten eggs.   

The third indicator is hydrology, or the presence of standing or flowing water at, below or above the surface of the soil. Water may not always be visible – sometimes water marks may be seen on trees, or small piles of debris may be piled against trees, rocks or other objects by the movement of water.

Corps regulators identify wetlands by recording the types of plants and hydrology found on the site, and by comparing soil samples against a Munsell color guide – a soil research tool that classifies soil colors based on hue, lightness and color purity.  

Considering all of these factors together helps the Corps to accurately establish the boundaries of wetlands and determine whether or not they should be regulated under the Clean Water Act.

One additional consideration in identifying wetlands is the regional differences in climate, hydrologic and geologic conditions, and plant and animal species across the country.  A wetland in Mississippi, for instance, may be vastly different than a wetland in Alaska.  

For this reason, the Corps has developed a series of regional supplements to the wetland delineation guide, which are used by regulators in the wetland identification process. Regional supplements are available for:

the Arid West… 
the Atlantic and Gulf Coast… 
the Caribbean Islands…
the Eastern Mountains and Piedmont Region… 
the Great Plains…
Hawaii and the Pacific Islands… 
the Mid-West…
the Northcentral and Northeastern United States…and 
the Western Mountains. 

The Corps developed these regional supplements as part of a nationwide effort to address regional wetland characteristics and improve the accuracy and efficiency of wetland delineation procedures.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers takes great care in accurately identifying wetlands. This is an important step in our decision-making process, which provides opportunities for reasonable economic development while also protecting invaluable natural resources.

[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.
  • 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.
  • 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.


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