, Volume 30, Issue 5, pp 0727-0734

The US Clean Water Act and Habitat Replacement: Evaluation of Mitigation Sites in Orange County, California, USA

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Abstract

Both permit requirements and ecological assessments have been used to evaluate mitigation success. This analysis combines these two approaches to evaluate mitigation required under Section 404 of the United States Clean Water Act (CWA) and Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act, which allow developers to provide compensatory mitigation for unavoidable impacts to wetlands. This study reviewed permit files and conducted field assessments of mitigation sites to evaluate the effectiveness of mitigation required by the US Army Corps of Engineers for all permits issued in Orange County, California from 1979 through 1993. The 535 permit actions approved during this period allowed 157 ha of impacts. Mitigation was required on 70 of these actions, with 152 ha of enhanced, restored, and created habitat required for 136 ha of impacts. In 15 permit actions, no mitigation project was constructed, but in only two cases was the originally permitted project built; the two cases resulted in an unmitigated loss of 1.6 ha. Of the remaining 55 sites, 55% were successful at meeting the permit conditions while 11% failed to do so. Based on a qualitative assessment of habitat quality, only 16% of the sites could be considered successful and 26% were considered failures. Thus, of the 126 ha of habitat lost due to the 55 projects, only 26 ha of mitigation was considered successful. The low success rate was not due to poor enforcement, although nearly half of the projects did not comply with all permit conditions. Mitigation success could best be improved by requiring mitigation plans to have performance standards based on habitat functions.