Regulating Urban Streams
Comment: On America's east coast, streams and wetlands have suffered through 400 years of deforestation and soil loss, three horrendous wars, unsustainable farming practices, dangerous dumping and landfill practices, and most recently, expansive pavement and drainage of impervious surfaces into surface waters (and uplands that become gullies). EPA and USACE maintain strict preservationist stances on these waters, now surrounded by up to 90% impervious area, lacking all plant species and most wildlife that were dominant 400 years ago. These urban stream systems are nothing like they were historically, and yet, they are regulated in the east the way that Gila Trout habitat in the west might be regulated.
In many cases, the streams themselves do not hold considerable wildlife habitat, and so EPA has regulated the adjacent upland floodplain as well. This is illegal, and has been repeated several times in the Mid-Atlantic. As a result, claims that the New Rule "will not regulate floodplains" are specious at best. EPA is already regulating floodplains, and will likely continue to do so until prevented by litigation. EPA's Science Review Board (SRB) notes that a gradient of natural resource protection needs to exist, despite EPA's continued claims that science does not support gradients of connectivity or habitat quality. As such, the agency contends that all perennial waters must be protected - not restored or enhanced - but protected as is, whether eroding, leaking toxic waste, or full of decaying tires. The preservationist mindset endures, even when there is precious little left to preserve.
Recommendation: Remove federal permitting requirements for urban (>20% impervious in drainage area) stream enhancement activities that can demonstrate a net gain in natural resource function and permanent protection of the site from fills related to real property development. Require land and infrastructure development projects to improve urban stream beds to historic structural conditions and improved biological conditions. This will ensure that the New Rule's proposed stream connectivity is not only transporting urban waste and sediment down to lower reaches from degraded areas.