Key Mitigation Themes and Challenges in North Carolina

John R. Dorney Atkins North America Raleigh, NC NC Water Resources Association Symposium – Raleigh, NC March 27, 2012

Urban Riverine Swamp Forest Raleigh, NC


Three basic questions

How does mitigation success vary by provider in North Carolina?


Is mitigation a failure scientifically?
How can we begin to achieve gain of acreage and function in North Carolina?


Three challenges
1. Compliance – crucial 2. Flexible mitigation – for buffers, coming to an EMC near you! – Flexibility needed for wetlands and streams too.

3. Functional uplift – the future of mitigation?


Three Questions


Question 1: How does mitigation success vary by provider in North Carolina?

● ●

Answer – no real differences by provider but overall NC better than other states. Previous wetland success rates lousy in NC. – 20 to 42% in 1995 Recent study by DWQ basically shows same regulatory success rate by provider for wetlands and streams. – Wetlands - 70% by area – Streams - 84% by length


Question 1: How does mitigation success vary by provider in North Carolina? (cont.)

Therefore, DOT, EEP, bankers and applicant-provided all equally good at mitigation.

Time for this argument to end in NC.


Interesting trends
● ●

I analyzed 19 reports on wetland regulatory success rates across the US from 1988 to 2010. In the US, regulatory mitigation success (for wetlands) does not seem to be improving.
– Range 18 % (MI) to 70% (NC) – Average of 48% – No statistically significant trend

● ●

Recent NC data higher than other states
– Statistically significant difference; t-test; p< .001

Why is NC different?


Mitigation success rates from various states – 1998 to 2010


Interesting trend (cont).

Other studies show applicant-provided mitigation usually poor.

My conclusion – existence of EEP has curtailed small, onsite, applicant-provided mitigation in NC.
Therefore, EEP has resulted in higher mitigation regulatory success in NC. Challenge – keeping this true while EEP morphs with new state legislation encouraging private banks.

Question 2: Is mitigation a failure scientifically?

Answer – No.
I believe that the “failure” of mitigation is exaggerated. Similarly, I believe that the “success” of mitigation is also exaggerated.


Is mitigation a scientific failure? (cont.)

Changes needed – More stream monitoring but not to the level of scientific research
● Streambank stability ● Biological (aquatic insects) ● Results of DWQ study

– Encourage stream enhancement over restoration – Flexible (alternative) mitigation for wetlands, streams and buffers

Two examples of ecological success from stream and wetland mitigation

Orzetti, et. al. in Chesapeake Bay.
Richardson, et. al. Sandy Creek in Durham. Note that there are also many examples of failure too.

Big lessons – encourage watershed level work and be patient.


Pine Valley Golf Course –Wilmington, NC
Pine Valley Golf Course restoration project before construction

Pine Valley Golf Course restoration project after construction
Photos from NCSU, Stream Restoration Institute

Orzetti, et. al. 2010 in Chesapeake Bay

“Stream condition in piedmont streams with restored riparian buffers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed” 2010. Journal of the American Water Resources Association 46(3): 473-485. Studied 30, 1st order streams with at least 30 meter wide buffers; stream enhancement sites. Age range from zero to 25 years old.


Orzetti, et. al. (cont.)

“Habitat, water quality and benthic macroinvertebrate metrics generally improved with age of restored buffer.”
“Noticeable improvements occurring within 5 – 10 years post-restoration, leading to conditions approaching those of long established buffers within 10-15 years of restoration.” “Full water quality functionality of the restored site occurs in 15- 20 years”

Orzetti, et. al. (cont.)


Orzetti, et. al. (cont.)
Biological Water Quality Variables Principal Component Analysis Coded by Age of Buffer >10 yrs <10 yrs


Orzetti, et. al. (cont.)

Implications for NC mitigation policy – Message – BE PATIENT. – Very few NC sites are > 10 years old.

– Stream enhancement works to improve water quality and aquatic life.


Richardson, et. al. 2011 in Sandy Creek in Durham (SWAMP study)

Sandy Creek within Duke Campus. Conducted - i) 1 stream restoration, ii) in-line pond (rehabilitation), and then iii) off-line constructed wetlands. Monitoring over many years (2001 – 2007) by a plethora of graduate students with LOTS of data.


Richardson, et. al. (cont.)
Watershed-level restoration Watershed small (600 ha or 1500 acres), and urban (21% impervious surfaces).

Figure and photo from Richardson, et. al. 2011

Richardson, et. al. (cont.)
“decreased downstream water pulses, nutrients, coliform bacteria, sediment and stream erosion”

“N loads were reduced by 64% and P loads were reduced by 28%.” Only really significant reductions after all three treatments were installed.


Richardson, et. al. (cont.)

Overall conclusion - “multi-phased restoration of Sandy Creek using natural stream design principles and re-contoured adjacent wetlands resulted in a restoration of the floodplain riparian hydrology, which reduced downstream water pulses

and stream erosion. Most importantly, we found sediment
retention and improved water quality for nutrients and coliform bacteria leaving the watershed.”


Richardson, et. al. (cont.)

Main conclusions – stream restoration has water quality benefit. – need watershed based approach. Permitting (so called “in-line treatment”) can make watershed approach a challenge. To scientifically “prove” water quality benefit, you have either 1) huge monitoring costs, or 2) use free graduate student labor (n=150 students over 10 years).


Corollary issue: The In-line treatment challenge

Can be a permitting challenge based on EPA guidance November 2001

– Guidance discourages construction of stormwater treatment measures in stream channels

Several successful sites built across state
– Innes Street Market in Salisbury
– Reidsville wetland – Courtland Avenue Park – Raleigh wetland – Fred Fletcher park – Others


The In-line treatment challenge (cont.)


Question 3: How can we begin to achieve gain of acreage and function in North Carolina?

Answer – Change state and federal policies to encourage this approach – Available tools of NC WAM (now) and NC SAM (soon). NC WAM and Meadow Branch example


Meadow Branch, EEP site in Robeson County


Meadow Branch berm


Meadow Branch site after functional uplift calculations
Mitigation Type and Location Enhance bottomland hardwood forest from Low to Medium Acres (appx.) Functional uplift – restoration equivalents (appx. acreage) 6.5 acre-equivalents

26 acres

Enhance riverine swamp 8 forest from Low to High
Preserve bottomland hardwood forest Restore bottomland hardwood forest by removing logging road 10 0.82

0 0.82


Three Challenges


Challenge 1: Compliance - crucial

Grossly underfunded by feds and state. Without oversight, no assurance that anything works (private or public; regulatory or scientific). Without recent DWQ study, we’d still be having meaningless debate about who does mitigation best in NC.


Challenge 1 (cont.)
Important caveat – Don’t be surprised when regulators inspect sites and see something that you don’t.

Challenge for mitigation industry (private and public) – FUND POSITIONS. – Fee-based positions probably most realistic


Challenge 2: Flexible mitigation – wetlands, streams and buffers
• Needed to increase options esp. in critical watersheds
● Urban ● HUCs with limited sites

• Examples for streams
● Edward’s Branch in Charlotte – stream credit for watershed level

work ● Dam removal guidance ● Coastal plain headwater stream guidance

• Examples for wetlands?
• None in NC


Coastal Headwater Stream Mitigation Site


Challenge 2: Flexible mitigation (cont.)

More progress on flexible riparian buffer mitigation but still slow.

EMC authorized to do flexible buffer mitigation by state statute over a decade ago. Draft flexible buffer mitigation
– Draft rules before Water Quality Committee of EMC six times in past three years! – On WQC agenda for May 2012.


Challenge 2 (cont.)

Expand buffer mitigation options esp. in service areas with few options for traditional mitigation.

Do not assume these options will be cheaper – most will be more expensive. Big Lesson: Often (always?) Flexible ≠ cheaper.

• Recommendation – discuss with your favorite EMC member to get rules to Public Hearing.

Challenge 3: Functional uplift –

NC WAM/NC SAM is the tool! Everyone needs to think outside the box somewhat to make this work. Need to determine
– how to use, – how to monitor, – etc.

Interagency Review Team oversight/approval
– Allowable under existing DWQ 401 rules

Challenge 3 (cont.)

Wetlands – Meadow Branch example (coastal plain)
● Functional uplift makes this site useful.

● Without functional uplift, site has 0.82 acres of restoration

equivalents. ● With functional uplift, site has 13.32 acres of restoration equivalents.

– Indian/Howard Creek example (piedmont)
● Functional uplift probably not useful since most wetlands small (<

1 acre). ● Largest site is 1.5 acres with 1.125 acres functional equivalents.

Indian-Howard Creek wetland desperately in need of enhancement!

•Photo from DWQ

Next speakers
• Will Harmon, Stream Mechanics – Can stream mitigation meet no net loss goals? • Eric Kulz, DWQ – Historical performance of mitigation from different sources. • Michael Ellison, EEP – Mitigation in an evolutionary context. • George Howard, Restoration Systems – Role of private mitigation banking. • Then - Panel Discussion and Questions


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