The USC Wetland Program is a regional approach to wetlands
The Upper Susquehanna Coalition of Soil and Water Conservation Districts initiated a Wetland Program in 2002. This wetland program has since grown substantially to cover most every facet of wetland related work, the primary exception being wetland regulation. The USC has its own team and wetland equipment to build virtually any wetland type. It bases its work on scientifically sound planning. It credits its success to support from its many academic and agency partners, great landowner interest and the Soil and Water District network that provides a framework for such an initiative to exist and prosper. The USC has generated over $7 million in wetland related work and has constructed or restored over 700 acres of wetlands and wetland-related habitat.
implemented at the county level
USC Wetland Program Goals
- Attenuate flooding by restoring wetlands in headwaters areas. These wetlands and their vegetation increases water-holding capabilities through direct capture and groundwater infiltration thus desynchronizing rainfall runoff, reducing flood peaks and the resulting downstream erosion.
- Enhance water quality by retaining sediment and nutrients in wetlands, especially for those wetlands that drain agricultural lands.
- Increase species diversity and wetland habitat acreage and connectivity.
The USC developed a Wetland Program that covers about every aspect of wetlands except regulation. Being able to complete every aspect of a wetland project, coupled with an extensive partnership network is the USC Wetland Program’s key to success.
Our approach was to have every tool we needed to implement the program and is thus, so to speak, “vertically and horizontally integrated”. The USC has its own wetland construction heavy equipment. The USC has its own wetland staff. We have Wetland Team Leader who develops program ideas and writes proposals. The USC Wetland Coordinator tracks permits, develops GIS maps and site plans based on LIDAR and other databases, while also managing the USC website. The USC Wetland Scientist provides scientific studies and computer analyses, and writes proposals. He developed a method to analyze almost all of the wetlands in NY State and prioritize them for quality based on a set of qualifier’s that can be modified to meet different objectives. The USC Wetland Biologist manages restoration projects, including the USC wetland equipment operators that run our wetland equipment.
The USC Wetland Team combine their talents to locate potential sites, obtain permits, conduct topographical surveys, develop wetland designs and construct wetlands. Our Wetland Coordinator has worked closely with USFWS biologists, learning their restoration protocols through a USFWS Partners for Wildlife contract. At times the USC has also provided funds to USFWS from a state grant to support their work.
Training and research on wetland restoration techniques is important. We have conducted hands-on vernal pool and wetland construction workshops and have helped write and published a textbook on restoration techniques with Tom Biebighauser. We have built 60 vernal pools for SUNY ESF, Syracuse for long-term research projects. A SUNY ESF PhD graduate student studying the critical parameters for vernal pool success is currently using it.
Innovation, Sustainability and Partnerships
• The USC helped The Wetland Trust (TWT) a 501C(3) nonprofit form a Basin wide In-Lieu Fee Wetland Program with a wetland preservation component that replaced its need for bonding projects, which will result in thousands of acres of additional wetland protection. It is the only Program, approved by the US Army Corps, to use this technique in the entire country.
• TWT has a Memorandum of Agreement with the USC to help design and build their wetlands.
• The USC is hosting a special workshop on using drones to map wetlands for long term monitoring with its partners Wildlife Intel. Using a GPS based route similar aerial photographs, with a 4cm resolution, could be flown every year under the exact same conditions o monitor the changes in vegetation and other landscape features.
• The USC is working with USFWS to row and plant out in other vernal pool sites a federal endangered plant , the Northern Bulrush. It is known form only one site in NY, where the USC Wetland Team has gained permission to work and collect seeds.
• The Wetland Coordinator developed a vernal pool computer tracking system
The wetlands we build are built to passively exist where they need little or no maintenance, reflecting a natural infrastructure approach.
• The USC has been designated by New York State Department for Environmental Conservation to be the official NY wetland data manager for the Chesapeake Bay Program and is responsible for the wetland goals of NY in its Chesapeake Bay Tributary Strategy.
• The USC is the Chesapeake Bay Programs “Wetland Champion” nominated to promote accelerated wetland restoration in the Basin.
• The USC is building wetlands on NY State Lands in partnership with NYSDEC Foresters
• The USC has build USDA NRCS WRP wetland with its own funds at times when the designs were completed by NRCS but funds were not available
• The USC supports wetland training sessions held by Tom Biebighauser, former US Forest Service Wetland Biologist and now with the Center for Wetlands and Stream Restoration
• The USC supports graduate students studying various aspects of wetland biology and hydrology (SUNY ESF and Binghamton University). For example the USC built 60 vernal pools for SUNY ESF at Heiberg Forest, for long-term research studies.
• The USC Wetland Coordinator developed the web site for the NYS Wetlands Forum;
• The USC built wetlands on Finger Lakes Land Trust, SUNY Otsego Biological Field Station, Chemung Valley Conservancy and The Wetland Trust properties
• The USC has an ongoing initiative to build wetlands on private property of interested landowners in the Susquehanna and Chemung River basins.
Measurable Environmental, Economic and Social Benefits
The USC has constructed over 700 acres of wetlands and wetland complexes (these include substantial upland components) in the past five years and over 300 in the past three years.
The USC has developed outreach materials such as an online vernal pool field guide and wetland posters depicting various wetland attributes.
Commitment and Leadership in Pursuit of Environmental Excellence
The USC, being a Soil and Water District organization has a long history of leadership and commitment to landscape conservation. Indeed Soil and Water Conservation Districts, by law, are given the task of preserving soil and water resources. Wetland, being defined by their hydric soils, fit well within this general mandate. An example of the connection between Districts and Wetlands in state law are depicted in the underlined portions of the Soil and Water Conservation Districts Law (Chapter 9-B of the Consolidated Laws) below:
(1) Preservation of soil and water resources. It is hereby declared to be the policy of the legislature to provide for the conservation of the soil and water resources of this state, and for the improvement of water quality, and for the control and prevention of soil erosion and for the prevention of floodwater and sediment damages and for furthering the conservation, development, utilization and disposal of water, and thereby to preserve natural resources, control and abate nonpoint sources of water pollution, assist in the control of floods, assist in the drainage and irrigation of agricultural lands, prevent impairment of dams and reservoirs, assist in maintaining the navigability of rivers and harbors, preserve wildlife, protect the tax base, protect public lands and protect and promote the health, safety and general welfare of the people of this state.
Transferability to Other Users
The concept of a Wetland Program that includes a complete set of tools to develop wetlands is easily transferred to any number of NY Soil and Water Districts. A single District could develop a small program with even a single small excavator, trailer, truck, operator and one wetland technician. In NY Districts are forming coalitions that cover much of NY and this program would fit well within these organizations. Any organization that actually implement projects (“pushes dirt” so to speak) could become involved in wetland restoration activates. The USC Wetland Team has a wealth of knowledge that they frequently through training sessions and presentations.
The Wetland Program relies completely on soft money for its existence. Funding is critical to ensure program sustainability. We successfully compete in state and federal requests for proposals, contracts for industry and agency wetland mitigation projects and at times Congressional support. The USC has secured more than $7m in funds since the beginning of its Wetland Program from:
• US Environmental Protection Agency Wetland Development Grant, Five Star Program, Targeted Watershed Initiative, Chesapeake Bay Program Small Watershed Grant
• USFWS Partners for Wildlife Program and North American Wetlands Conservation Act
• USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service’s Wetland Restoration Program
• USDI Forest Service (planned)
• NY State Water Quality Improvement Program funds (EPF)
• NYS CFA grant to build wetlands in NY’s Southern Tier
• Wetland Mitigation projects for Millennium Pipeline Company, Empire Pipeline Company, New York State Electric and Gas Company, Canandaigua and Delaware Industrial Development Agencies, NYS DOT
• The Wetland Trust’s Susquehanna In Lieu Fee Wetland Mitigation Program