Posted on Leave a comment

What is a Waters of the US in 2018?

The Swamp Stomp

Volume 18, Issue 50

In the last several months there have been a series of court rulings that have changed what constitutes a Waters of the US (WOTUS). Ironically, the reason for the change relates to the manner in which the change was announced. What makes it ironic, is that the judges who have ruled against the Trump Administration’s 2015 WOTUS Rule delay have have done so on the basis that the public needed more time to absorb and comment on the delay. These judges’ orders have had an immediate effect which seems a bit hypocritical given the reasons for the rulings.

When the Clean Water Rule was implemented in 2015, a partial and the then a nationwide stay of the Rule was ordered by the 6th District Court. Knowing that this three-year stay would be lifted this year, the Trump administration issued a regulation that imposed an additional 2-year postponement on the implementation of the 2015 Clean Water Rule. There was a brief public comment period and the delay became effective this past spring. Shortly thereafter the 6th Circuit stay was lifted.

This past August, a South Carolina Federal judge ruled that the Trump delay of the 2015 Clean Water Rule violated the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) and that the public should have had more time to comment on the delay rule. Please note that the Trump rule was simply a delay of the implementation of the published rule. Apparently, the public needed more time to absorb the impact of what an additional 2-year delay on a rule that already had been delayed for the previous 3 years would be. This seems a bit silly but as the South Carolina Federal Judge noted in his decision, “What is good for the goose is good for the gander.” This was in reference to all of the Obama era APA violations. It seems to be a possible political payback.

Shortly thereafter, District judges in Texas, Georgia and North Dakota have prohibited the South Carolina Judges’ rule from being applied in 28 states. The remaining 22 states are currently subject to the Obama era rules. The EPA has put together a pretty nice map of this as shown below.

About a week ago, a Washington State Federal judge reinstated the 2015 Obama era rules nationwide. However, this was in direct conflict with the previous Federal Judges’ prohibition on implementing the rules. It is a bit unclear if the rules are in effect nationwide. However, it seems that the previous Texas, Georgia and North Dakota judges’ decisions remain valid for now. So as shown on the EPA map, 28 green states are not subject to the 2015 rule and the 22 blue states are.

This week should prove interesting as the Trump administration has announced that it will be releasing its own Waters of the US definition. This would replace the 2015 Rules. It is expected that this would go into effect sometime before the summer of 2019. The Trump rules would follow the Scalia decision from the Rapanos Supreme Court decision of 2006. This would require jurisdictional aquatic resources to be physically connected to commerce waters. This is a divergence from the Kennedy decision of said same case that required a significance nexus that could also include chemical and biological connections to commerce waters. One can assume that the Scalia test would result in less areas being defined at the Federal level as jurisdictional aquatic resources as it only allows for a physical connection.

We will have more about this in upcoming newsletters and our annual Wetland Status and Trend Webinar in January.

Posted on Leave a comment

Winter Delineation

Swamp Stomp

Volume 18, Issue 49

As I write this, a few states are already covered in snow. This makes any field work very difficult. Heck, driving to the office could be a challenge. Kind of makes that whole global warming thing sound pretty good right about now.

We can’t stop work and wait for spring though. We have to get some field work done! The problem is that we have to balance responsible science with paying the bills. We cannot just lay everyone off when there is snow on the ground.

I have worked in the northern part of the country for many a winter. As a result, I have developed some tips and tricks for conducting wetland delineations in less than ideal conditions. I thought I would share a few with you while you wait for the snow plows to show up.

The first and foremost important item is do not take pictures of the snow and send it to the Corps. You are going to have to wait until you can see bare ground. Most Corps Districts will not even accept the reports if there are snow covered pictures. You will need to let your clients know that there will be a follow–up site visit to finish up the field work when the snow melts.

Now, if the snow is many feet deep, you may still be stuck in the office. First, there is a safety issue and second, there is a matter of really being able to accomplish anything when the snow is that thick. The safety issue should not be overlooked. Under any circumstances, do not venture into the field alone. There are just too many hazards out there that a cell phone cannot help you with. Hypothermia is one of the bigger hazards you may face. Keep an eye on each other.

If you can navigate through the snow safely, you should be able to do a tree survey. The trees can be identified in the winter by twigs, bark, and buds. To be frank, this is a better way to identify them anyway. The leaves can be misleading. This is especially true with the red oaks. The buds are critical to a positive identification of these tricky trees.

Saplings and shrubs will also persist throughout the winter months. Many of these are either facultative wet (FACW) or facultative up (FACU). These can be a great help with wetland determinations.

The herbaceous species will most likely be absent. However, there are some species that persist in the non-growing season. These perennial species often die back to the root, but the vegetative parts remain. Cattails and soft rush are good examples of this. Species like skunk cabbage also die back to the bulb leaving a little leaf ball right below the ground surface in the subnivian zone. This is the space between the snow and ground surface.

If you do encounter herbaceous species in the winter, I would suggest limiting the inventory to only perennials. You may find remnants of annuals in the winter. However, the problem with annuals is that they are highly variable and may be responding to a seasonal or climatic change in the hydroperiod. This may not be typical for the site overall. So if you are able to identify them (to species), make a note and keep an eye on the site when the snow melts.

Hydrology is going to be a tough one. Most of the indicators will either be buried or otherwise be altered due to being frozen. However, there are a few to keep an eye out for.

Obviously, if you see standing water you have a positive indicator of hydrology. Be careful not to include a frozen puddle that may only be there temporarily. Since the evaporation rate is so low in the winter, that area could easily be a false positive. Look for type “C” soil indicators as a backup if you really want to call the puddle a potential wetland. Oxidized rhizospheres would be great to find.

Last, but not least, are the soil indicators. Believe it or not, most of these will persist in the non-growing season. Even the rhizospheres will remain when the soil is frozen.

If the soil is frozen solid, you may have more of a logistical issue extracting a sample than any other issue. There are special devices made to help you with this. The slide hammer attachment works well on a tube sampler, but be prepared to totally destroy the sampler by the time you are done. There are some other clever devices out there that may help you. A little research may be necessary. Your trusty shovel will also work in frozen soil. No need to go to the gym on that day though.

I would recommend that you take a picture of the soil in its frozen state and identify any hydric indicators. Then take the sample to your nice warm truck and see what you see when it thaws out. Note any change in soil color as it warms. My experience is that the frozen soil looks brighter in color and may give you a false negative until it melts.

The Corps may still have issues with any work done with snow cover. Please check with your local Corps field office to see if they have any restrictions. Even if they do, you still may be able to get a jump start on the site and be ready to finish it quickly in the spring. For those of you WAY up north I think that is sometime in July. You will have to hurry before that first Labor Day snow storm!

Have a great week. Stay warm and stay safe.


Posted on Leave a comment

Hydric Soil Indicators

Swamp Stomp

Volume 18, Issue 48

The most common soil type we encounter in wetlands is the “F” group of hydric soils. These are the loamy mineral soils. The texture needs to be a fine sand or finer. Usually, we are looking at silts and clays.

Of all of the indicators in the “F” group, the two most common ones are the depleted matrix “F3” and the dark surface “F6.” It is not unusual to find both of these in the same soil pit. Both of these indicators are dependent upon soil color as their hydric condition test.

There are many variations of color associated with the “F” indicators. However, a basic rule of thumb is that they need to have a Munsell matrix chroma of 2 or less. There are provisions for chromas greater than 2 found in some of the other indicators. However, for the “F3” and “F6” we need to see colors that are at least as dark as a 2.

There is still some pushback from the old time delineators on these new indicators. For decades we used a single indicator for soil color.

  • Matrix chroma is 2 or less in mottled soils
  • Matrix chroma is 1 or less in unmottled soils

This has to occur at a depth of 10 inches or the bottom of the “A” horizon whichever is shallower.

This definition served us well but it is no longer in use. When we look at the new “F” indicators though, we see that the old definition is buried in them (sorry for the pun).

One other oldie is the concept of mottling. This term has been replaced with the concept of redoximorphic features. We now refer to dark features as redox depletions and bright features as redox concentrations. Mottling always meant a mix of soil colors. However, it usually was expressed when the dark features were in the matrix (dominant color) and the bright features were individual masses. The use of the redox concentrations and redox depletions is much more descriptive and a change for the better.

The thickness of the indicator feature is also a new concept. Many of the “F” indicators not only require a specific soil color, but also a thickness associated with it. For example, a matrix with a chroma of 2 must be at least 6 inches thick in order to count as a hydric soil feature. To make this a bit more challenging, some of these thickness requirements can be combined with other hydric soil indicators thickness requirements to make up any missing thickness goals. This only applies to certain indicators like the “F3” and “F6”.

The last caveat is that some of these features must occur within certain depth limits in order to count as a hydric soil feature. You must see the feature start at a specified depth and then extend for a certain thickness. One aspect of the “F3” requires that a depleted matrix must start in the upper 12 inches of the soil and extend for at least 6 inches. Thickness and depth are combined.

The “F3” indicator is one of the most frequently found indicators. It is referred to as a depleted matrix. There is a tricky part to this indicator regarding the use of the US Army Corps Regional Supplements. The definition of a depleted matrix is found in the glossary along with a nice graphic of what it means. The problem is that the hydric soils section leads you to believe that the full description of the feature is found within the hydric soil indicator description but it does not. You need to check the glossary!

The description starts with the idea that you have a depleted matrix, therefore, you need to know what a depleted matrix is. This involves an analysis of the soil color and the percentage of redox features.

A depleted matrix is:

The volume of a soil horizon or subhorizon from which iron has been removed or transformed by processes of reduction and translocation to create colors of low chroma and high value. A, E, and calcic horizons may have low chromas and high values and may, therefore, be mistaken for a depleted matrix. However, they are excluded from the concept of depleted matrix unless common or many, distinct or prominent redox concentrations as soft masses or pore linings are present. In some places the depleted matrix may change color upon exposure to air (reduced matrix); this phenomenon is included in the concept of the depleted matrix. The following combinations of value and chroma identify a depleted matrix:

  • Matrix value of 5 or more and chroma of 1, with or without redox concentrations occurring as soft masses and/or pore linings, or
  • Matrix value of 6 or more and chroma of 2 or 1, with or without redox concentrations occurring as soft masses and/or pore linings, or
  • Matrix value of 4 or 5 and chroma of 2, with 2 percent or more distinct or prominent redox concentrations occurring as soft masses and/or pore linings, or
  • Matrix value of 4 and chroma of 1, with 2 percent or more distinct or prominent redox concentrations occurring as soft masses and/or pore linings (USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service 2010).

Common (2 to less than 20 percent) to many (20 percent or more) redox concentrations (USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service 2002) are required in soils with matrix colors of 4/1, 4/2, and 5/2. Redox concentrations include iron and manganese masses and pore linings(Vepraskas 1992).

Once you figure that out you just need to look for depth and thickness of feature.

A layer with a depleted matrix that has 60 percent or more chroma of 2 or less and that has a minimum thickness of either:

  • 2 in. (5 cm) if the 2 in. (5 cm) is entirely within the upper 6 in. (15 cm) of the soil, or
  • 6 in. (15 cm) starting within 10 in. (25 cm) of the soil surface.

The “F6” indicator does not require a depleted matrix. It is a dark surface described as follows:

A layer that is at least 4 in. (10 cm) thick is entirely within the upper 12 in. (30 cm) of the mineral soil, and has a:

  • Matrix value of 3 or less and chroma of 1 or less and 2 percent or more distinct or prominent redox concentrations occurring as soft masses or pore linings, or
  • Matrix value of 3 or less and chroma of 2 or less and 5 percent or more distinct or prominent redox concentrations occurring as soft masses or pore linings.

I should add that distinct or prominent redox features are defined by the color contrast between these features. Please check the Regional Supplement glossary for a full description. We also printed it on our soil bandana.

These two soil indicators can also be combined to meet the thickness requirements of either feature. This may vary by Regional Supplement so make sure to check with the Corps for any local interpretations.

Have a great week!

– Marc

Posted on Leave a comment

Red Tide

Swamp Stomp

Volume 18 Issue 46

Roll – Crimson Tide – Roll, may or may not be your favorite shout at College football games, but if you are a fisherman, sportsman, beachgoer or other visitors to coastal waters where the dreaded Red Tide occurs, it can certainly bring an unwanted experience.

Red tides occur worldwide in oceans, bays, intertidal zones, and are most commonly caused by the upwelling of nutrients from the sea floor caused by massive storms, though anthropogenic causes such as urban/agricultural runoff may also be a contributing factor. During these upwellings, certain species of phytoplankton and dinoflagellates can multiply rapidly. These organisms contain pigments that vary in color from brown to pink to red and discolor the water and hence the name Red Tide. In the gulf coast region of the United States, the most common species causing Red Tides is Karenia brevis, one of many different species of the genus Karenia found in the world’s oceans. The northeast coast of the United States experiences Red Tides caused by another species of dinoflagellate known as Alexandrium fundyense. The growth of these algal blooms depends on wind, temperature, nutrients, and salinity. Red Tides do not occur in freshwater ecosystems. The occurrence of Red Tides in some locations appears to be entirely natural and is a seasonal occurrence resulting from coastal upwelling and the movement of certain ocean currents.

Red tides are often associated with fish kills from the algal production of toxins such as brevotoxins and ichthyotoxins that are harmful to marine life. These toxins can build up in shellfish that are then eaten by other animals. Fish typically exhibit neurotoxin poisoning by swimming in irregular spasmodic motions followed by paralysis, difficulty breathing and death.

Brevetoxins are tasteless, odorless, and heat and acid stable. Thus, these toxins cannot be easily detected, nor can they be removed by food preparation procedures. Humans can be affected by the Red Tide by eating contaminated shellfish, breathing winds that have become aerosolized, and sometimes by skin contact. People who eat contaminated shellfish may suffer from severe gastrointestinal and neurologic symptoms including vomiting, nausea, slurred speech. tingling lips, fingers or toes. Swimming among brevetoxins or inhaling brevetoxins dispersed in the air may cause irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, as well as coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. People with respiratory illnesses such as asthma may experience these symptoms more severely.

The best way to avoid an unpleasant experience with Red Tides is to monitor reports from health agencies and heed public warnings. You should try to reduce exposure by avoiding winds blowing onshore, reducing time outside, and certainly keeping off the beach. You should use your home air conditioner less and use high quality small particulate matter-capture air filters. If you are driving, keep the vehicle air circulating within the cabin and avoid importing outside air.

Red Tides have been recorded for centuries and are here to stay. Learn more about what you can do to help prevent Red Tides and otherwise assist ocean health by becoming involved with Coastal/Oceanographic Organizations in your area.

Source:, What is a red tide? August 6, 2018, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB)-Associated Illness, June 19, 2018

Posted on Leave a comment

Illegal Tarantula Trade: Spookier than Halloween

Swamp Stomp

Volume 18 Issue 45

As fall sets in and we prepare for Halloween, we tend to appreciate the spookier side of life more than we might in the spring when fluffy rabbits and chicks tend to decorate homes. One spooky creature which is next to impossible not to see on decorations this time of year is the tarantula. Perhaps the spookiest aspect of this creature though, which is not well known, is the rampant and illegal trade in tarantulas. This global problem has haunted many ecologists as they try to stop what has already caused damage to ecosystems around the world.

Although you were probably unaware that the illegal tarantula trade existed as of several minutes ago, it is part of the multi-billion black market industry in illegal wildlife trading. Some of the more well-known animals that are a part of this illegal trade include elephants and rhinos, but tarantulas have also been hit especially hard. Conservation biologist Sergio Henriques points to increased travel and cracks in legislation as the main sources of fueling the trade of tarantulas. Wanted for their beautiful coloring, these tarantulas often end up killed and encased in resin on a shelf. Tarantulas in the genus Brachypelma have been especially hard hit by this illegal trading due to their characteristic flame-colored spots and red knees.

So, if the tarantula population were to significantly decrease, would they truly be missed? First of all, although they are rather scary to look at, and tarantulas do carry venom, you are actually more likely to be affected by a bee sting than a tarantula bite. Moreover, tarantula venom has actually been very useful to researchers. Their venom has been extensively studied and we now know much more about pain and diseases such as epilepsy. Tarantulas are also extremely useful in agriculture, as they eat the insects and other pests that infest important crops. Additionally, tarantulas help out other organisms in their ecosystems, as the silk they spin is often used by hummingbirds to build their nests.

Unfortunately, the illegal tarantula trade is hardly a priority for law enforcement officers. With the abundance of crime in the world, trading in tarantulas seems rather insignificant. Even among scientists, tarantulas are less of a priority than the majestic elephant for example.

There are over 900 species of tarantulas, but according to Henriques, the conservation status of only 15 of these have ever been assessed leaving the status of over 99 percent of tarantulas in the wild completely unknown. Scientists who study these creatures have serious concerns for many of the species involved in illegal trading. Since females reproduce later in life, it is much harder for a population to bounce back when so many of its members are removed so suddenly. While not in the top ten of favorite pets, tarantulas are important for many reasons, and without our help and that of dedicated scientists, they could one day be gone.


Actman, Jani. “The illegal market for tarantulas is hairy business.” National Geographic. National Geographic. October 31, 2018. Web. November 1, 2018.

Posted on Leave a comment

Octopuses on Ecstasy Leads to Neurological Advances

Swamp Stomp

Volume 18 Issue 44

When you look at an octopus, it doesn’t appear to even remotely resemble a human. From its eight arms to its strange movements, it looks almost alien. In fact, though, it turns out that octopuses are very smart, social, and in many ways, not too different from humans. Gul Dolen, a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and Eric Edsinger, an octopus researcher at Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, discovered this in a rather unique study involving octopus behavior and the drug ecstasy.

Ecstasy, or 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine(MDMA), is found most often at parties. In humans, ecstasy causes a variety of reactions in the brain. Fear is reduced and empathy is induced, and the result is a feeling of overwhelming euphoria, often experienced at electronic dance music (EDM) festivals. When ecstasy enters the bloodstream, the molecules of the drug bind to a protein that regulates the flow of serotonin into and out of neurons. This causes a flood of serotonin, which is responsible for the change of behavior in humans. Interestingly, in octopuses, the drug reacts in the same way.

Hoping to discover more about how the brain controls social behaviors, Dr. Dolen dosed octopuses with ecstasy. Before the drug, the octopuses stayed mostly to themselves, ignoring the other octopuses in the tank and spending most of their time with a Star Wars figurine on the opposite end of the tank. But once the ecstasy was given, the octopuses let loose and enjoyed the company of their fellow octopuses. Some even displayed affection, hugging an overturned orchid pot that protected another octopus and showing off their mouths, another sign of affection.

A major takeaway from this experiment is that somehow, despite being separated by 500 million years of evolution, humans and octopuses share a portion of their brain chemistry. This may seem like a small accomplishment, but when our current conception of the brain is so small, this finding could result in huge advances. If we can understand more completely how the octopus brain functions, we may be able to more completely understand how the human brain functions. The list of neurological diseases is long, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s among others, and most do not have any known cure. Perhaps octopuses on ecstasy could be the key to finding these cures.


Klein, JoAnna. “On Ecstasy Octopuses Reached out for a Hug.” New York Times. New York Times. September 20, 2018. Web. October 21, 2018.

Posted on Leave a comment

Hydric Soils Primer

Swamp Stomp

Volume 18, Issue 43

Hydric Soils Primer
By Marc Seelinger

I thought we would revisit some of the more fun aspects of wetland science. This week we are going to talk about soils.

One of the most fundamental and often confusing topics concerning soils are those darn hydric soil indicators. There are just so many of them. Each regional supplement can have different ones and sometimes there are tweaks that are region or sub-region specific.

The most basic concept surrounding hydric soil indicators is that they only apply to hydric soils. Now, this may seem a bit obvious but it is critical to the understanding of how the indicators work. Non-hydric soils do not exhibit any of the listed indicators. However, if an indicator is present, it is a positive test for hydric soils. Once that happens it is not usual to find multiple indicators in the same soil profile. If there are no indicators, the soil is not hydric, and no indicators should have been found. This becomes a bit tricky when dealing with remnant hydric soils. Shadows of indicators might be present. However, the soil is not actively hydric. The lack of hydrology indicators may help to confirm this.

The next topic is, “what is it we are looking for?” The hydric soil indicators are based on how three groups of elements respond to the presence of water. It is not just the presence of water, but the anaerobic environment the water creates. These element groups are:

Iron and Manganese

The easiest one to spot is sulfur. The soil stinks like rotten eggs. If you have stinky soil you meet one of the hydric soil criteria. Be careful to not misdiagnose the smell. There are lots of stinky things out there. Make sure what you are smelling is hydrogen sulfide.

Iron and manganese are also fairly easy to spot. There is a distinct color change from orange-red to grey in the case of reduced iron. The anaerobic environment chemically changes the color of the soil. Manganese tends to turn black in this wet environment. However, the problem with these is that the color change back to the brighter colors in an aerobic environment may not happen quickly or at all in some cases. Consequently, you need to make sure that you have an active reducing environment by cross-checking your hydrology indicators.

Carbon is perhaps the trickiest. A simple explanation is that a significant amount of organic material (a.k.a. carbon) is present due to the lack of oxygen in the environment. The soil microbes are not able to break the organic material down because they need oxygen to do this. The more the soil is subjected to anaerobic conditions the thicker the layer of undigested carbon becomes. The more organic matter, the more likely the soil will be hydric. It probably stinks too.

To help organize all of the indicators the Corps uses USDA texture classes. Each indicator is grouped based upon its dominant texture. These include sand, loam, and no specific texture.

Sand is the easiest. The texture is sandy like beach sand. All of the indicators have this in common. The funny thing about this one is that the presence of organic matter is a big part of the “S” indicators.

Loam is denoted by the letter “F.” It stands for fine sand or finer. This includes silts and clays. Most of the indicators in the F category are related to iron and manganese color changes.

“All soils” is the last category and is listed as not specific to any one texture type. Many of the poorly-drained organic soil types fall into this category. However, stinky soil also is an “A” indicator. These “all soils” indicators all sort of fall into the category of “other” but with a strong emphasis on organic soils.

One last thought on this soil overview. The thickness of the feature is a new concept. Many of the indicators have thickness requirements. A given soil feature must be a specified thickness in order to count. It may also have to occur at a specified depth, otherwise, the feature does not count. Oh, and by the way, you sometimes can combine features if present, to meet these thickness thresholds.

Have a great week!

– Marc

Posted on Leave a comment

How significant does a nexus have to be?

Swamp Stomp

Volume 18, Issue 42

How significant does a nexus have to be?
By Marc Seelinger

The issue of what is and is not a significant nexus is center to the new EPA Clean Water Act (CWA) rules. In order for a wetland or other water body to be jurisdictional under the Act, it must have this connection to a navigable waterway. The problem is what is a significant nexus?

This whole issue arose as a result of the Rapanos and Carabell Supreme Court case in 2006. Justice Kennedy coined the term “Significant Nexus” in his lone opinion. It paralleled the plurality’s two-part test involving the receiving waters that have a relatively permanent flow and whether those waters have a continuous surface connection to navigable-in-fact waters. However, he went a step beyond the physical connection and introduced a water quality connection.

One other factor is that the plurality Justices did not feel that dredge or fill material normally washes downstream. Both Justice Kennedy and Justice Stevens in his dissent made it clear that this assertion simply is untrue. Justice Kennedy stated that the discharge of dredged and fill material should be treated the same as the discharge of any other pollutant under the Clean Water Act. Justice Kennedy further stated that the intent of the CWA is to maintain wetlands that provide filtering and other attributes to benefit adjacent bodies of water.

So the problem remains. What is a significant nexus?

There are two types of waters we need to assess. The first one is easy. Simply ask the question, is there a physical connection to a downstream navigable waterway? If the answer is yes, it is jurisdictional.

Now there are many ways a wetland could be connected. But for this analysis, we are more or less limited to surface and shallow subsurface connections of a foot or less. This has been the general rule of thumb since about 2007.

With the new EPA rules, there is discussion on unidirectional and bidirectional flow patterns. This further demonstrates the connection to the navigable waterway. What is new is the introduction of non-wetland areas that have bi-directional water patterns and connections to downstream navigable waters. By default, these areas are connected and therefore jurisdictional. Floodplains are an example of this. By the way, this is new.

The remaining waters are either adjacent wetlands that do not have obvious physical connections. These may also be isolated wetlands. Adjacent wetlands by rule are jurisdictional. Isolated wetlands need to have a significant nexus.

So what is a significant nexus?

If there is no physical connection, you are asked to assess the chemical and biological connectivity to the downstream waters. This was the subject of the recent EPA “Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters”, report that described in great detail how all waters are connected to all other waters. I believe you would have to have a project on the moon in order to not satisfy the connectivity of one water to another based upon the EPA report.

However, that only addresses the concept of nexus. The issue is significant. Pardon the pun.

Really the issue is the significance of the connection. If the connection from one water body to another is altered, can you prove and quantify degradation to the water quality?

The biggest problem that was identified with the EPA report is the lack of discernment of the significance of one connection versus another. The entire report’s premise was to reduce the number of case by case studies on projects. The idea was that the water body is connected therefore it is jurisdictional. However, Justice Kennedy used the word significant. That remains undefined. Neither the new rules nor the recent EPA report quantifies what is significant.

So what is significant?

That is left for you to decide. Is there a significant loss of water quality that would result from your project?

There is also the issue of whether this loss of water quality going to affect commerce? It is not just that the water quality is degraded, but rather that there is an interstate or international economic loss as a result. Without this commerce connection, there can be no jurisdiction thanks to Article 1, Section 8 of the United States Constitution.

One last thought. What if you project improves the downstream economy? Would that still be jurisdictional as Justice Kennedy’s Significant Nexus only speaks to degradation of the downstream water? Just asking.

Posted on Leave a comment

Wetlands could be key in revitalizing acid streams

Swamp Stomp

Volume 18, Issue 41

Originally published as “Wetlands could be key in revitalizing acid streams, UT Arlington researchers say.” 2013
Media Contact: Traci Peterson, Office:817-272-9208, Cell:817-521-5494,

A team of University of Texas at Arlington biologists working with the U.S. Geological Survey has found that watershed wetlands can serve as a natural source for the improvement of streams polluted by acid rain.

A team of UTA biologists analyzed water samples in the Adirondack Forest Preserve.

The group, led by associate professor of biology Sophia Passy, also contends that recent increases in the level of organic matter in surface waters in regions of North America and Europe – also known as “brownification” – holds benefits for aquatic ecosystems.

The research team’s work appeared in the September issue of the journal Global Change Biology.

The team analyzed water samples collected in the Adirondack Forest Preserve, a six million acre region in northeastern New York. The Adirondacks have been adversely affected by atmospheric acid deposition with subsequent acidification of streams, lakes, and soils. Acidification occurs when environments become contaminated with inorganic acids, such as sulfuric and nitric acid, from industrial pollution of the atmosphere.

Inorganic acids from the rain filter through poorly buffered watersheds, releasing toxic aluminum from the soil into the waterways. The overall result is loss of biological diversity, including algae, invertebrates, fish, and amphibians.

“Ecologists and government officials have been looking for ways to reduce acidification and aluminum contamination of surface waters for 40 years. While Clean Air Act regulations have fueled progress, the problem is still not solved,” Passy said. “We hope that future restoration efforts in acid streams will consider the use of wetlands as a natural source of stream health improvement.”

Working during key times of the year for acid deposition, the team collected 637 samples from 192 streams from the Black and Oswegatchie River basins in the Adirondacks. Their results compared biodiversity of diatoms, or algae, with levels of organic and inorganic acids. They found that streams connected to wetlands had higher organic content, which led to lower levels of toxic inorganic aluminum and decreased presence of harmful inorganic acids.

Passy joined the UT Arlington College of Science in 2001. Katrina L. Pound, a doctoral student working in the Passy lab, is the lead author on the study. The other co-author is Gregory B. Lawrence, of the USGS’s New York Water Science Center.

The study authors believe that as streams acidified by acidic deposition pass through wetlands, they become enriched with organic matter, which binds harmful aluminum and limits its negative effects on stream producers. Organic matter also stimulates microbes that process sulfate and nitrate and thus decreases the inorganic acid content.

These helpful organic materials are also present in brownification – a process that some believe is tied to climate change. The newly published paper said that this process might help the recovery of biological communities from industrial acidification.

Many have viewed brownification as a negative environmental development because it is perceived as decreasing water quality for human consumption.

“What we’re saying is that it’s not entirely a bad thing from the perspective of ecosystem health,” Pound said.

The UTA team behind the paper hopes that watershed development, including wetland construction or stream re-channeling to existing wetlands, may become a viable alternative to liming. Liming is now widely used to reduce acidity in streams affected by acid rain but many scientists question its long-term effectiveness.

The new paper is available online at

Funding for Passy’s work was provided in part by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. The Norman Hackerman Advanced Research Program, a project of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, as well as the US Geological Survey, the Adirondack Lakes Survey Corporation and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation also provided support.

The University of Texas at Arlington is a comprehensive research institution of more than 33,000 students and more than 2,200 faculty members in the heart of North Texas. Visit to learn more.