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A Farmer Speaks Out

Swamp Stomp

Volume 14, Issue 21

Swamp School Updates

Happy day after Memorial Day!  I hope that you had an enjoyable weekend.

I wanted to let you know about a few changes to the Swamp School.  We are in the process of a website makeover and it is pretty cool!  We just launched our new webstore (SwampMart.com).  It is a major improvement to our old one.  Some of the features include the ability to log in and create an account.  From there you can retrieve invoices, place orders, update contact info, etc.

We have also expanded the class and product descriptions.  For example, our 100+ wetland plants book now has sample pages that you can view online. To make registering for classes easier, we have embedded the student registration information into the class purchase. It is truly a one stop shopping experience.

There are also a couple of other pretty cool features that we could use you help with.  We now have a customer comments section for each class.  If you have participated in one of our previous classes, we would greatly appreciate it if you could provide a few comments on it for future students.  Just create an account and click the class location you attended.  There is a link on each class for comments.

As a special thank you for creating an account with our new store, we will send you a free hydric soil field guide.  Just sign in at SwampMart.com and we will send you the guide.  No strings or obligations.

We also have launched a major upgrade to our online virtual training classes.  The new URL is wet-land.net.  If you are already enrolled in our old one, don’t worry that will stay up for as long as we need to keep you enrolled.

We have one more shameless promotion we need to let you know about.  In addition to our full summer schedule, we are launching a new certificate series for wetland scientists.  The first class we are offering is our Certified Wetland Botanist program.  This is a 12-week program that will teach you the common wetland plants you need to know for delineations, challenge you with the preparation of a virtual herbarium, and test your knowledge on plant identification.  Upon successful conclusion of the program you will be a certified wetland botanist.
This is the first in the series of a new certified wetland delineator program the Swamp School will be offering in the very near future.  As you might guess, we will be offering a certified wetland hydrologist and certified wetland soil scientist as future programs.  The three certifications along with a wetland delineation techniques certification will culminate in the certified wetland delineator designation.  Oh, did I mention, this is all online!  There will be a field test that you will need to attend for the delineator program, but the rest is online.

Thanks and have a great week!

Marc

A Farmer Speaks Out

The farm community has been one of the more vocal opponents to the new EPA Waters of the US rules.  A North Dakota farmer was recently interviewed and pretty much sums up their concerns.

KXNet.com – Bismarck/Minot/Williston/Dickinson-KXNEWS,ND

 

Spanish Wetlands

Swamp Stomp

Volume 14, Issue 20

Wetlands 2014

Wetlands programs and jobs are not limited to the United States. This year an important conference on wetlands is being held in Spain. It is entitled Wetlands 2014: Wetlands Biodiversity and Services: Tools for Socio-Ecological Development.

The Conference will take place at the Huesca Congress Palace (Palacio de Congresos de Huesca) in the city of Huesca, Huesca Province, one of the three provinces of the Aragón Autonomous Community, in Spain (in northeast Spain). The Conference Venue is close to a number of hotels. A short walk of 10-15 minutes is required for reaching the Conference Venue from any hotel in Huesca and a walk of 20-25 minutes from the most distant places of Huesca.

Wetlands 2014 will be a forum for meeting farmers, managers, decision makers, GOs and NGOs, scientists, professionals, etc., to present experiences, prospects, and expectations on the integration of land, water, biodiversity and other resources for contributing to a wise socio-ecological development.

The agenda includes speakers from all around the world and some pretty amazing field trips. Particular emphasis will be given to topics dealing with wetlands restoration and creation and the integration of wetlands with socio-ecological issues: the contribution of wetlands as part of the landscape in order to use the benefits and services provided by wetlands; restoring and creating wetlands as key points for ecotourism and development of rural areas; use and valuation of wetlands for providing natural resources and alleviating poverty, strategies and practical solutions for environmental conflicts related to wetlands, the contribution of wetlands to mitigate global change.

The conference committee has issued a first call for papers and they are also looking for sponsors.

More information about this conference can be found on their website: http://www.wetlands2014.eu/

I now many of you will be constrained by budgets and travel restrictions. However, this conference is worth keeping an eye on. Even if you can only access it by way of the website there are a couple of important economic issues that serve as a focus.

Wetlands have become a major boom and bust to many economies. A recent Forbes Magazine article entitled, “How Private Capital is Restoring US Wetlands” focused its attention of the economic benefits of wetlands. Not to mention the numbers of jobs associated with this industry. Wetlands have become a major jobs and environmental recovery point of interest. This is both in the US and internationally.

So if you can find some to time to hop over the pond to Spain in September it may be worth your time.

Have a great week!

Marc

Redefining No Net Loss

Swamp Stomp

Volume 14, Issue 19

The EPA’s Office of Inspector General has released a report detailing the success or lack thereof of wetland mitigation programs around the country.  The central concern is whether or not “no net loss” is being achieved.  The report is entitled, “EPA Needs to Clarify Its Claim of ‘No Net Loss ‘of Wetlands.”  As the title might suggest it does not appear that this goal is being realized.

The following is from the report.

“The EPA attempts to verify that the application of the wetlands protection and restoration guidelines furthers the goal of “no net loss” by comparing the total acres of wetland impacts to the total acres planned for mitigation in the USACE’s Section 404 permits. However, this comparison is based on the EPA’s assumption that all wetlands mitigation projects will meet performance standards. Not all mitigation projects meet these standards. For example, in a 2011 report about North Carolina wetlands mitigation projects, it was reported that “… no single mitigation provider, mitigation type or geographic region achieved complete success according to the standards approved in mitigation plans.” Specifically, the report noted that 74 percent of the mitigation projects attained the mitigation goals established in the Section 404 permits. Because the EPA’s performance reporting does not inform readers of this assumption, the Office of Inspector General concluded that the EPA’s reporting of “no net loss” of wetlands hampers the public’s understanding of the EPA’s actual performance in protecting wetlands. The EPA should indicate in its wetlands measure definitions webpage and in future annual plan performance reporting that achieving “no net loss” is based upon an assumption that wetlands mitigation projects meet performance standards.”

So what is the recommendation?  It is simply to lower the bar.  This is the EPA Inspector General’s recommendation.

“Clarify on the wetlands measure definitions webpage and in future annual plan performance reporting that “no net loss” of wetlands is based upon an assumption that mitigation projects contained in CWA Section 404 permits will meet performance standards.”

This seems reasonable however, the agency response to this recommendation is a bit bizarre.

“In partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, states and tribes achieve ‘no net loss’ of wetlands each year under the Clean Water Act Section 404 regulatory program. (‘No net loss’ of wetlands is based on requirements for mitigation in CWA 404 permits and not the actual mitigation attained.).”

So no net loss is based upon the requirement of wetland mitigation.  The fact that the mitigation put into the ground that does not work does not seem to matter.  Oh well.  We tried.

Perhaps I am reading this wrong.  I invite our readers to look at this document and provide any insight they can.  This seems to me to be a major step backward in ensuring wetlands that are impacted are put back.

Have a great week!

Marc

Congress Pushes Back on New EPA WoUS Rules

Swamp Stomp

Volume 14, Issue 18

On May 1, 2014, 231 lawmakers led by U.S. Representatives Chris Collins (R-NY) and Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), in the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter to the EPA and U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to retract its proposed rule to expand federal control under the Clean Water Act. They have citied technical, legal and economic concerns regarding the new rules that have been published in the Federal Register.

Congress is most concerned with the legal position that the EPA and the Corps have taken by more or less basing the entire rule revision on Justice Kennedy’s lone opinion in the Rapanos case. The letter states, “Contrary to your agencies’ claims, this would directly contract prior U.S. Supreme Court decisions, which imposed limits on the extent of federal CWA authority,” the lawmakers stated in the letter. It went on to say that “Based on a legally and scientifically unsound view of the “significant nexus” concept espoused by Justice Kennedy, the rule would places features such as ditches, ephemeral drainages, ponds (natural or manmade), prairie potholes, seeps, flood plains, and other occasionally or seasonally wet areas under federal control.”

The letter also raised concerns with the economic analysis on which the proposed rule is based. In the agency’s analysis, it was determined that the proposed rule would result in a 2.7 percent increase in jurisdictional determinations and would impact an additional 1,332 acres nationwide under Section 404. They applied that 2.7 percent increase across other EPA permitting programs. The agencies determined that the draft proposed rule would result in costs between $133 million and $231 million annually. Based on this, the agencies have said the rule would not have a significant economic impact. The lawmakers disagree, saying errors in the analysis “call into question the veracity of any of the conclusions in the economic analysis.”

House Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) says the proposal is a massive power grab that must be stopped. “Under this plan, there’d be no body of water in America – including mud puddles and canals – that wouldn’t be at risk from job-destroying federal regulation,” he says.”

Read the full letter here.

To date the EPA has received more than 61,000 comments on the new rules. Your comments and suggestions are needed. So far a total of 789 comments have been published. Many support the new rules and a few do not. If you have any opinion on these new rules, please provide you comments by going to regulations.gov and searching for EPA-HQ-OW-2011-0880. From there you can see the entire docket and submit your comments.

Comments are due by July 21, 2014. If EPA and the Corps finalize these rules it is expected that they will be in force by the fall of this year.

Similarly Situated Waters

Swamp Stomp

Volume 14, Issue 17

One of the major tenets of the new EPA waters of the US regulations is the concept of Bright Line Rules. Bright Line Rules are a clearly defined rule or standard, generally used in law, composed of objective factors which leave little or no room for varying interpretation. The purpose of a bright-line rule is to produce predictable and consistent results in its application.

Some legal scholars, such as Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, have expressed a strong preference for bright-line rules, critics often argue that bright-line rules are overly-simplistic and can lead to harsh and unjust results. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer noted that there are circumstances in which the application of bright-line rules would be inappropriate, stating that “no single set of legal rules can ever capture the ever changing complexity of human life.” Over the course of the last three decades, many bright-line rules previously established in U.S. jurisprudence have been replaced with balancing tests.

The concept of similarly situated waters is a bright line rule. The EPA is attempting to designate these waters based upon their occurrence in a specific ecoregion. There are two documents you need to look at to understand this idea. The first one is found on page 29 of the newly published proposed rules (EPA-HQ-OW-2011-0880) and Map A also published (EPA-HQ-OW-2011-0880-0002) and included in the Federal Register docket.

This is from the rules:

The agencies would consider the ‘‘other waters’’ in a single point of entry watershed in these identified ecoregions as similarly situated for purposes of aggregation for a significant nexus analysis. The agencies expect that this approach would lead to all similarly situated other waters within single point of entry watersheds within an ecoregion being found jurisdictional through case specific analysis of significant nexus. Alternately, the agencies could determine that the similarly situated waters within each ecoregion have a significant nexus and are jurisdictional by rule and therefore do not require a case-specific significant nexus analysis.

These ecoregions are defined as, “an ecoregion is an area within the United States that includes generally similar ecosystems and that has similar types, qualities, and quantities of environmental resources. (J.M. Omernik, ‘‘Perspectives on the Nature and Definition of Ecological Regions,’’ Environmental Management 34(Supplement 1):S27–S38 (2004)). Ecoregions cover relatively large areas of land or water, and contain characteristic, geographically distinct assemblages of natural communities and species. The biodiversity of flora, fauna and ecosystems that characterize an ecoregion tends to be distinct from that of other ecoregions.”

The EPA has identified vast areas of the US as similarly situated and has depicted them on the map below.

EPA-HQ-OW-2011-0880-0002

The significance of this mapping is that any wetland or water found within these ecoregions would be considered similarly situated and therefore jurisdictional by default. There would be no need for a significant nexus determination.

I think it is kind of funny that the Keystone XL pipeline R-O-W more or less corresponds to one of these Bright Line Rule areas. Coincidence?

Have a great week!

Marc

Agricultural Exemption Under Section 404(f)(1)(A) Of The Clean Water Act

Docket ID: EPA-HQ-OW-2013-0820

Agency: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Comments Due:  June 5, 2014

Summary:

The purpose of this interpretive rule is to clarify the applicability of the exemption provided under Section 404(f)(1)(A) of the Clean Water Act (CWA) to discharges of dredged or fill material associated with certain agricultural conservation practices based on the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) conservation practice standards that are designed and implemented to protect and enhance water quality.

Definition of “Waters of the United States” Under the Clean Water Act

 Docket ID: EPA-HQ-OW-2011-0880

Agency: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Comments Due: 7/21/14

Summary:

After U.S. Supreme Court decisions in SWANCC and Rapanos, the scope of “waters of the US” protected under all CWA programs has been an issue of considerable debate and uncertainty. The Act has a single definition for “waters of the United States.” As a result, these decisions affect the geographic scope of all CWA programs. SWANCC and Rapanos did not invalidate the current regulatory definition of “waters of the United States.” However, the decisions established important considerations for how those regulations should be interpreted, and experience implementing the regulations has identified several areas that could benefit from additional clarification through rulemaking. U.S. EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are developing a proposed rule for determining whether a water is protected by the Clean Water Act. This rule would make clear which waterbodies are protected under the Clean Water Act.

Hydrophytic Cover Index (HCI)

Swamp Stomp

Volume 14, Issue 16

Last month the US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) published several documents about how wetland vegetation is determined. They are reexamining the calculations and methods that we use to make wetland determinations. Some of the factors that the Corps considered for these studies include the importance of dominance (or not), plot sizes, the impact of stratum, and plot shape. All of these observations and conclusions are intended to be included in a new Corps wetland delineation manual.

This week we will discuss the document that focuses on the comparison between the formulas that are used to determine the presence or absence of a wetland plant community. The document is entitled,” Examining Discrepancies Among Three Methods Used to Make Hydrophytic Vegetation Determinations for Wetland Delineation Purposes,” (Lichvar and Gilrich, 2014).

The purpose and need statement for this document is quite clear. In the past there have been discrepancies between the use of the dominance test (DR) and the newer prevalence index (PI). The dominance test dates back to the original Corps Wetland Delineation Manual (1987). The prevalence index is now used in all of the regional supplements; however it first made its appearance to the regulatory scene in the 1989 Federal Manual. It was buried deep in the Federal Manual appendix as an advanced wetland delineation method.

There is a new method under consideration for replacement of both of these calculations. It is called Hydrophytic Cover Index (HCI). At present this method remains unpublished and is not to be used with any current wetland delineations. It will most likely be published in the Federal Register as part of the new Corps Wetland Delineation Manual. However, it is an interesting approach that appears to have much promise. Chief among its features is the elimination of the 50/20 rule for determining dominance. Have you ever tried to explain to a non-wetland person at a cocktail party what the 50/20 rule is? Well I have and it is not fun. For some reason, I do not get invited to many cocktail parties anymore.

There are several variables that were discussed in the Corps report that are interesting. Factors like number or strata, odd or even numbers of species, and plot size all had impacts on the traditional methods of determining a wetland plant community. It seems that the more strata you have the more likely you are going to find a wetland plant community. It also appears that plant communities that have odd number of species were more likely to be a wetland community than even numbered populations. In theory, these factors should have no bearing on the presence or absence of a wetland plant community. However, it appears that it does, hence the need to fix the problem.

The Hydrophytic Cover Index (HCI) method was compared to both of the existing in use methods. There were three tests. The first one compared bottom line results. In this test each method was run on data collected by the Corps in the field. The first test showed that the use of the HCI resulted in more areas being called hydrophytic. The PI (69%) and the DR (76%) produced significantly smaller percentages of hydrophytic vegetation determinations than the Hydrophytic Cover Index (HCI) (80%) produced.

The second test compared all three tests with the total number of all species found in the field. In situations where greater than 50% of the species were identified as Obligate (OBL), Facultative Wet (FACW) or Facultative (FAC) the HCI tested positive for hydrophytes 100% of the time. When the numbers of species with OBL. FACW and FAC indicators were less than 50% the HCI tested negative for hydrophytes 100% of the time.

The third test looked at the even versus odd number of species that were calculated using all three methods. The DR test seems to show that if you have an even number of species examined, there is a 10% decrease the area passing the DR test. The HCI and the PI tests did not seem to show this bias.

The actual procedure for using the HCI test was not described in the report. The formula was provided and is:

HCI = (Sobl + Sfacw + Sfac)/(Sobl + Sfacw + Sfac + Sfacu + Supl) × 100

All of the species identified in the study area are to be counted and run though this equation. It does not appear that the vegetation is separated into stratum (tree, shrub, herb, & woody vine). Dominance is also not calculated.

You should be able to use the data that you currently collect for The PI test to run this equation. It is fairly simple and very quick.

If the Corps and perhaps EPA decide to use this equation, it will be part of a new manual and put out for public comment. Until then the HCI method is not to be used for jurisdictional determinations. However, it might be worth your while to try it out on a few projects to see if there is any significant difference in the results. It would also be interesting to correlate the presence or absence of hydric soils and hydrology indicators with the HCI result. This would make comments to the new method a lot more meaningful and scientific when the time comes for the public to respond.

Have a great week!

Marc

Changes to the National Wetland Plant List

Swamp Stomp

Volume 14, Issue 15

Changes to the National Wetland Plant List

I have been checking twice a day on the federal regulations.gov site to see if the new EPA waters of the US rules have been posted.  As of April 14, 2014 they have not.  I sat in on a webinar with EPA last week and they had said that they would be in the federal register by the end of last week (4/11/14).  As soon as they are posted I will send out a quick note to all of our newsletter subscribers.

There has been some grumbling in Congress about these new rules.  However nothing has moved forward or backward.  It is Congress after all.  They are now in recess.  Perhaps now would be a good time to publish the new rules while they are on break.  We will keep an eye on it.

There has been one more important wetland update that happened this month.  On April 3, 2014 the new 2014 National Wetland Plant list was published.  This new list has some significant changes in it and it to be used on all active wetland delineations.  There is some “grandfathering” for projects currently under review however; it is the intention of the Corps to require this list to be in full use by May 1, 2014.

The following is a summary of the rating changes from 2013 to 2014.

Region*

Type

OBL

FACW

FAC

FACU

Total

AGCP

new

13

16

8

6

43

range ext.

29

28

50

50

157

AK

new

2

2

0

0

4

range ext.

4

4

3

12

23

AW

new

8

10

5

12

35

range ext.

29

16

30

51

126

CB

new

0

0

0

0

0

range ext.

2

2

2

3

9

EMP

new

8

11

7

9

35

range ext.

40

59

53

57

209

GP

new

2

2

2

3

9

range ext.

36

34

52

53

175

HI

new

0

3

1

0

4

range ext.

2

4

3

7

16

MW

new

4

3

2

5

14

range ext.

16

38

29

40

123

NCNE

new

15

16

6

14

51

range ext.

24

29

25

56

134

WMVC

new

2

8

8

7

25

range ext.

24

26

25

27

102

National

new

54

71

39

56

220

range ext.

206

240

272

356

1,074

These species were reevaluated using challenge study protocols. An asterisk indicates that a species was formally challenged with a written challenge proposal. The remaining species were informally challenged via email inquiries.

Species Region Pre-Challenge Rating Decided by Post-Challenge Rating
Alliaria petiolata (Bieb.) Cavara & Grande AGCP FACW National Panel FACU
* Aristida beyrichiana Trin. & Rupr. AGCP —- Regional Panel FAC
Helianthus tuberosus L. AGCP —- National Panel FACU
Lonicera japonica Thunb. AGCP FAC National Panel FACU
* Agalinis calycina Pennell. AW —- Regional Panel OBL
Helianthus tuberosus L. AW —- National Panel FACU
* Pogogyne clareana J.T. Howell AW FACU Regional Panel FACW
Helianthus tuberosus L. EMP —- National Panel FACU
Sambucus nigra L. EMP FACU Regional Panel FAC
* Agalinis calycina Pennell. GP —- Regional Panel OBL
*Amaranthus tuberculatus (Moq.) Sauer GP OBL Regional Panel FAC
Ambrosia trifidia L. GP —- Regional Panel FAC
Helianthus tuberosus L. GP —- National Panel FACU
Helianthus tuberosus L. MW —- Regional Panel FACU
Centaurea jacea L. NCNE —- Regional Panel FACU
Helianthus tuberosus L. NCNE —- National Panel FACU
Viburnum nudum L. NCNE FACU National Panel FACW
Helianthus tuberosus L. WMVC —- National Panel FACU

There are also three new important documents about plants and wetland delineations posted on the National Wetland Plant List site.  The first one has a direct relationship to the “page 29” wetland delineations discussed in the new EPA rules.   The document is entitled “Use of LiDAR to Assist in Delineating Waters of the United States, Including Wetlands,” March 2014.  The intention of this program is to reduce the amount of field work necessary to do wetland delineations.  I am OK with using LiDAR to “assist”, but don’t take away my soil auger!

The second document is entitled,” Field Testing New Plot Designs and Methods for Determining Hydrophytic Vegetation during Wetland Delineations in the United States,” March 2014.  This one is focused on a new way to calculate the presence of wetland plants by using a new model called Hydrophytic Cover Index (HCI).

The third plant document of the month is entitled, “Examining Discrepancies Among Three Methods Used to Make Hydrophytic Vegetation Determinations for Wetland Delineation Purposes,” March 2014.  This document compares what we do now using the dominance test and prevalence index with the new HCI test in the aforementioned document.

We will be reviewing each of these in our upcoming newsletters.

Have a great week and Happy Easter!

Best,

Marc

Using a Laser Level for Ecological Studies

Swamp Stomp

Volume 14, Issue 14

The Swamp School Guide to Using a Laser Level for Ecological Studies

The use of a survey grade level is critical for obtaining accurate measurements of various biological features, biological benchmarks, etc.  This information is used for many purposes including stream restoration, coastal restoration, wetland restoration, and other design purposes.

There are two types of levels used for construction and design.   The older of the two is known as the Dumpy level.  This level is like a spotting scope with cross hairs.  It is highly accurate (despite its name) and also has an added advantage of being able to measure distance.  However, it does require much more work to operate and is limited to a range of about 30 feet.  It also requires two people to operate.

Laser levels are the other commonly used measuring tool and are a great improvement over the Dumby levels.  The major benefit is that the distance away from the level is pretty much as far as you can see.  This reduces the number of station moves and speeds the process along.  You also only need to have one person to operate the level.

There is a third option which is to use a surveyor total station.  This however, is a very complicated process and usually beyond the level of detail needed for most biological assessments.  A corollary to this is the use of GPS.  GPS is great for x and y coordinates, but it is often meters off on the elevation (z).

Laser Levels

You do not need to spend a lot of money to purchase a quality laser level.  You can often find these for sale in big box home improvements stores and hardware stores.  They are around a couple of hundred dollars.  You can also rent one from a survey supply shop for about $20-$30 per day.  They will also be happy to sell you one if you need to use it more than just a few times.  Survey grade levels are usually in the $500 to $1000 range.  This is worth the investment if this type of work is a regular thing for you.  Also, do not cheap out on the box.  The level will get bounced around so you will need a quality instrument case.  This is sometimes a problem with the home center levels.

The laser receiver is usually included with the laser level.  This is a little box that attaches to the survey rod with thumb screws.  It takes batteries and makes a tone when the laser beam from the level hits it.

You also need legs.  The level should be placed upon a quality tripod.  This is not the same type as you use for a camera.  Survey grade tripods are usually made of wood or aluminum and have steel spikes to set it into the ground.  The legs are adjustable so that you can level your level.  The level should be about chest high when mounted so the tripod needs to be 4-5 feet high when set up.

Next on your shopping list is a survey rod.  You want to get the smallest rod that will serve the purposes of the site work you are doing.  A 12 foot rod is much better than a 25 foot rod if you only need to go up a few feet.  The bigger the rod the more sway you have and the measurements will be less accurate.  However, if you have a steep slope on you site a bigger rod may be necessary.

You will also need a measuring tape or carpenters rule.  It is better to get one that is calibrated to 1/10’s of a foot rather than inches.  The survey rod is almost always in 1/10’s of a foot, however make sure you are not using some sort of metric rod.  That really clean rod in the back of the tool closet that nobody uses might be there for a reason.

Set Up

The first thing that you want to do is take a walk around the area that you need to survey.  You want to find the best place to set up the level so that you do not need to move it more than necessary.  Keep an eye on slope, trees and other obstructions.  The level needs a clear line of sight.  You can clear some of the vegetation away, but it is usually easier to find a spot that would require the least amount of work to get your shots.  The tripod should be set up above the highest point you are going to survey.  You need to include the height of the level receiver on the rod when you are making this estimate.  This translates to about 5 feet above your highest point.  The level needs to be able to “see” the receiver.  If the level is set is too low it will shoot below the receiver mounted on the rod.  You can move the receiver down, but that would require that you recalculate for those shots.

Keep the level in the box until you are ready to place it on the tripod.  Do not attach it to the tripod and then walk around with it.  It should be boxed when moving it around the site.

Set the legs up on as level a surface as you can.  Adjust the legs so that the level mounting plate is fairly level.  You can use a hand level to do this or the bubble level on the laser level itself.

The laser level attaches to the tripod by way of a large screw below the mounting plate.  Do not tighten this too much until you have leveled the level.  There are three or four leveling screws on the level.  There is also a glass bubble level on the mounting plate.  Adjust the leveling screws so that the level is dead on level in all directions.  This will require that you spin the level around and make adjustments.  If you have attempted to level the tripod before you mounted the level, this will go fairly quickly.  It is critical that the level be mounted level.  Otherwise your data is junk.

Instrument Height

There is usually a marking on the level where you should measure downwards to the ground.  We are also going to determine height of instrument using the back site, but you should always measure the distance from the instrument to the ground.  We don’t really use this data, but it seems that it is always done.  It is sort of a cross check.

Backsight

You should place a project benchmark somewhere near the level set up.  This serves as your project control and can be surveyed for real later if you need to derive actual elevation points from your level runs.  This control should be set using a pin, rod, pipe or other relatively permanent maker.  Wooden stakes do not work as they can be easily removed or damaged.

The backsight elevation is any number that makes sense.  The convention is to set it at 100.  You may come back later in drag control onto the site to determine the actual elevation, but that is not necessary for this type of work.

The laser level indicator should be attached to the rod, usually at the tip.  Note the location of the indicator.  For example it is on the rod at 4.5 feet.  Most telescopic rods have a height indicator on the back of the rod.  As you raise the rod the height indicator numbers will change.  Be careful to raise the rod in the proper order.  This varies with some rod types so be sure to check with the manufacturer on the use of the rod.

A Direct Elevation Rod or a “ Lenker Rod ” is the most common type and has numbers in reverse order on an  graduated strip that revolves around the rod on rollers. Figures run down the rod and can be brought to a desired reading—for example the elevation of a point or benchmark. Rod readings are preset for the backsight, and then, due to the reverse order of numbers, foresight readings give elevations directly without calculating backsights and foresights.

Turn the laser on and position the rod on the benchmark and raise the rod until you hear a steady tone.  You will usually hear a slow chip when you are just below the laser bean and a fast chirp when you go past it.  Note the rod reading.  That is your backsight reading.  Add the elevation from the benchmark rod reading and you have your height of instrument (HI).

For example.  Your benchmark is elevation 100.  Your rod reading on that benchmark is 4.06.  Therefore your Height of Instrument (HI) is 104.06’.  Your benchmark elevation should be lower than the instrument ground location.  Otherwise you need to adjust the detector and do some more math.   It can be done, but it takes more time.

Now you are ready to go to work on the foresights.

Position the rod directly on the ground at each feature shot.  The rod should be straight up and down.  There are plumb levels you can attach to the rod to help you.  Some laser detectors will also beep at you if you are too far out of plumb.

Raise the rod until you hear that steady tone.  Note the rod reading.  Make sure that you raised the rod in the right order and that the numbers are being read correctly.  Usually, this is a matter checking reality.  If your rod reading suddenly jumps by 5 feet from the last point you may have raised the rod sections in the wrong order.

Record each feature and provide some notes.  A level book works great for this.  This is an example of a level book set up.

Set  Up  1

Station

BS

HI

FS

Elev

Notes

(feet)

(+)

(-)

4.06

104.06

100

Benchmark

6.63

0+25

97.43

MT

5.35

0+50

98.71

MHW

At each feature subtract the foresight (FS) from the Height of Instrument (HI) to derive the elevation.

In this example we have a 1.28’ difference from mid tide (MT) to Mean High Water (MHW).  We can therefore assume that our total tidal exchange would be 2.56’ from Mean Low Water (MLW) to MHW.

We would need to check many other points.  Usually for a biological benchmark survey we would to stationing along a cross section.  Each feature would be relative to the feature type and its location on the cross section.  In our example above the distance from the MT to MHW is 25’.  This is measured by setting a fixed staring point at 0+00 and measuring along that line.

If you need to move the level you will need to calculate a new HI.  Make sure to reference the setup with the data.  Start a new table for a new set up.

Finally, if you need to determine the real elevations of your features survey the benchmark.  This will require a surveyor to locate nearby elevation control and drag that onto the site using traverse lines.  You can also use high end GPS for this.  In our example above the real elevation for the benchmark is 456’ NAVD 88.  Our new HI is 460.06.  We need to make sure we cite the vertical data source.  In this case it is North American Vertical Datum of 1988 (NAVD 88).  Therefore our MT is 453.43’ NAVD 88 and the MHW is 454.71’ NAVD 88.  You can do this for all of the data associated with the benchmark.

 One final note of caution

If you are doing level runs for design purposes you may or may not need a licensed land surveyor to sign off on them.  However, if you are doing any floodplain calculation work you will most likely need the help of a licensed surveyor.    Some jurisdictions allow licensed professional engineers to do this as well.  This is a matter of state and federal law so be careful and ask questions.

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