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Title:Banking on offsets: a political ecological and eco-geomorphic analysis of Section 404 compensatory stream mitigation banking in Illinois and Missouri
Author(s):Peimer, Alex Wayne
Director of Research:Rhoads, Bruce L.; Bassett, Thomas J.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Bassett, Thomas J.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Matthews, Jeffrey; Orta, Andrew; Robertson, Morgan
Department / Program:Geography & Geographic InfoSci
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Clean Water Act Section 404
no net loss
stream mitigation
mitigation banking
stream naturalization
sociology of translation
Abstract:No net loss goals play a major role in U.S. environmental policies. No net loss policies are championed as ways to simultaneously allow economic development and protect the environment. One such example is Section 404 of the U.S. Clean Water Act. Section 404 is administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ('the Corps') and the Environmental Protection Agency. Section 404 pertains to the dredging and filling of jurisdictional streams and wetlands nationally. Section 404 oversight is triggered when an applicant—such as a land or highway developer—proposes to fill or dredge a stream or wetland as a part of their development project. As a part of their project, the applicant must mitigate their overall impact by avoiding additional impacts, minimizing any impacts that occur, and compensating for their impacts by providing a commensurate amount of ecological function to a stream or wetland elsewhere. Since 2008, federal regulation prefers that compensatory mitigation for stream impacts is provided by a stream mitigation bank: a segment of stream or river that is enhanced, restored, or conserved to replace lost or damaged functions. Thus, rather than compensating sites on a project-by-project basis, federal guidelines prefer that compensation occurs prior to impacts on larger sites that can offset multiple impacts within the same watershed. This dissertation examines the process through which the St. Louis Corps commensurates impacts and mitigation to streams in Illinois and Missouri. Commensuration, the comparison of different objects or qualities using a common metric, is fundamental to implementing no net loss policies. This is because the amount of compensation required to mitigate impacts is measured using district-defined measures of stream credits. A stream credit is an abstract unit of value that is supposed to represent the total function of a stream. Each Corps district is responsible for developing their own method and criteria for defining the criteria and value of stream credits. These methods are called stream mitigation methods. Federal guidelines urge Corps districts design stream mitigation methods to assess stream impacts based on stream functions, rather than merely exchanging impacts and compensation using stream length or area (i.e. non-functional measures). This dissertation contributes to three bodies of literature. First this dissertation contributes to practical studies of Section 404 compensatory mitigation by demonstrating significant hurdles to implementing in-kind compensatory stream mitigation banking nationwide. Second this dissertation contributes to the literature on stream and watershed management by demonstrating the applicability of the concept of stream naturalization to regulatory-based stream management. Third this dissertation contributes to the literature on the sociology of measurements and environmental compensation by testing theories of the constraints and drivers of measurement standardization. Using the framework of a sociology of translation, this dissertation shows that while methods are design with users in mind, the expectations of users is structured by a broader social context within which methods are created (i.e. the St. Louis Corps regulatory program). The primary contribution of this dissertation is its explanation of how and why the St. Louis Corps implements no net loss goals by using non-functional metrics and non-functional commensuration systems. This dissertation shows the social factors that come into play to structure these outcomes. The result is that no net loss is achieved only numerically in Illinois and Missouri: while stream credits may balance, the actual functional conditions of streams remain uncompensated and unexamined. This dissertation is composed of four separate analyses. Each analysis provides additional insight into the logics and subsequent biophysical outcomes of Section 404 compensatory stream mitigation banking regulators and participants in Illinois and Missouri. First, this dissertation explains the social dynamics involved in creating a standard method for assessing and evaluating stream function in Illinois and Missouri by Section 404 regulators and ecological experts. Previously unexplored, this contribution is achieved by analyzing the process by which the St. Louis Corps organizes and creates district-specific stream mitigation methods in Illinois and Missouri. The primary finding of this analysis is that the St. Louis Corps develops stream mitigation methods in Illinois and Missouri with the overall goal of ensuring that non-experts can use the methods rapidly. Thus, the Illinois and Missouri stream mitigation methods are not based on stream functions and therefore do not ensure no net loss of stream functions. Instead, the Illinois and Missouri stream mitigation methods are visual, activity, and physical-based assessments of impacts and mitigation. Second, this dissertation follows a St. Louis Corps district regulator as he evaluates a Section 404 permit and assesses a proposed stream impact site using the Illinois stream mitigation method. Using participant observation, this analysis highlights the various comparisons that regulators make when commensurating stream impacts and potential stream mitigation. The primary finding of this section of the dissertation is that Corps regulators use individual discretion and personal preferences when assessing the value of stream impacts using the mitigation methods. This interpretive flexibility is rooted in the fact that the Illinois stream method is not prescriptive. Rather than requiring specific steps to assess the functional impact of a Section 404 activity, the method only requires visual assessment of physical channel conditions to discern the overall "impact" of a Section 404 project. Third, this dissertation investigates how St. Louis regulators and mitigation bankers plan and design stream mitigation banking sites. In Illinois, along with elsewhere in the Midwestern U.S., stream mitigation banks provide stream credits through riparian corridor enhancement rather than in-channel stream work. Thus, stream credits are generated using work that is out-of-kind with impacts. Interviews with mitigation bankers and a St. Louis regulator reveal the underlying causes of this out-of-kind relationship. A primary finding of this analysis is that St. Louis regulators favor generating a larger pool of stream credits even if they are not generated using in-channel work. Without riparian work counting as stream credits, there would not be any stream credits available at mitigation banks in Illinois since stream mitigation bankers are hesitant to conduct in-channel work. St. Louis regulators allow out-of-kind stream credit work at mitigation banks because they are pressured by federal guidelines to encourage mitigation bankers to develop more mitigation banks. As a result, the preferences for mitigation bankers to essentially conduct wetland mitigation work and call it stream mitigation work becomes representative of how stream credits are generated at mitigation banks in Illinois and elsewhere in the Midwest. Finally, this dissertation compares the geomorphic and water quality characteristics of impact sites and a mitigation banking site. Stream mitigation banks in Illinois exclusively generate stream credits through riparian corridor enhancement. Thus, mitigation banking sites are not in-kind with impact sites that include in-channel impacts. However, since riparian corridor work supposedly benefits in-channel habitat, there is interest in understanding whether or not riparian corridor banking sites generate non-compensatory mitigation benefits to the in-channel area. Using cross-sectional surveys, sediment analysis, watershed delineation, water quality measurements, and riparian corridor area comparisons, the fourth analysis in this dissertation compares four impact sites and their "off-setting" mitigation banking site stream. Findings from this analysis suggest that there are likely negligible non-compensatory mitigation benefits generated to the in-channel area from riparian corridor mitigation work based on the variables measured in this study.
Issue Date:2016-07-07
Rights Information:Copyright 2016 Alex Peimer
Date Available in IDEALS:2016-11-10
Date Deposited:2016-08

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