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Entries in Corps (10)

Monday
Nov032014

Should We Support New CWA Rules? I'm Not So Sure . . . 

Some sportsmen groups support the new rules proposed for the federal Clean Water Act (CWA).

For example, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, of which B.A.S.S. is a member, says this: “Sportsmen must speak up for strong, science-based protections for waters upon which America’s hunters and anglers rely. Tell the Army Corps and EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) you support their efforts to clarify the Clean Water Act and urge them to finalize a rule that protects wetlands and headwater streams.”

I’m not so sure. For months I’ve argued with myself about this. Yes, I want to protect wetlands and headwater streams, but . . .

The original Clean Water Act was passed by our elected representatives and senators and signed into law by the President. It clearly was implemented with the best interests of the public and our aquatic resources in mind.

These rules were formulated by the EPA for the EPA. Public input was solicited, but no bureaucracy is going to institute rules detrimental to its own best interests. It’s going to create regulations that strengthen it and expand its powers.

And what recourse do citizens have in dealing with unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats who, more and more, are making the rules that we must live by? Not much.

EPA insists that these new rules simply “clarify” its regulatory role in protecting waters upstream of navigable waters. It needs to do so, it asserts, because of Supreme Court decisions that created uncertainty.

Critics of EPA and Corps overreach counter that those decisions reined in those agencies, which is why they now are proposing new rules.

I could present you with an almost endless list of testimonials from both sides, but I’ll keep it to a couple.

EPA’s Nancy Stoner says this:

“So EPA and the Corps are bringing clarity and consistency to the process, cutting red tape and saving money. The proposed Waters of the U.S. rule does not regulate new types of ditches, does not regulate activities on land, and does not apply to groundwater.”

Mike Freese, an attorney for the Oregon Farm Bureau counters:

“This is also going to affect counties, cities, home builders and land use anywhere near a waterway . . . The Clean Water Act will become a land management tool for federal agencies.”

If my decision to align with one side or the other were based only on the rules themselves, I’d probably side with the sportsmen groups and EPA. But it’s not.

There’s also interpretation and enforcement by the bureaucrats in those agencies, and the track record there is not good. Ask Mike and Chantell Sackett up in Idaho about that. After obtaining necessary local permits and consulting with the Corps, they were filling in their lot with dirt and rock, preparing to build a home in a neighborhood where other houses have stood for years. Suddenly, federal officials showed up, demanding that they stop construction because their .63-acre lot is a protected wetland.

Seven years later, they’re still fighting for the right to build their home. In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously on their behalf, but its judgment said only that the couple has the right to seek judicial review in opposing the EPA.

Also in 2012, a top EPA official, Al Armendariz, resigned after a video surfaced of him making a speech in which is compared the agency’s enforcement strategy to Roman crucifixion.

“It was kind of like how the Romans used to, you know, conquer villages in the Mediterranean,” he said. “They’d go in to a little Turkish town somewhere, they’d find five guys they saw, and they’d crucify them.

“And then, you know, that town was really easy to manage for the next few years.”

More recently, bureaucrats in another agency have refused to cooperate with Congress on another water-related issue. The Interior Department ignored a subpoena to provide documents regarding this administration’s rewrite of the 2008 “Stream Buffer Zone Rule.”

"The administration's response to the committee's oversight efforts has been downright shameful. Their actions are unjustifiable and show blatant disrespect to the transparency they promised the American people,” said Rep. Doc Hastings, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.

Yes, we all want clean water.  And thanks to the original CWA we’ve made tremendous strides in improving water quality and fisheries. The question now is how to balance continued improvements with maintaining a government that is mindful of and respectful to its citizens and their rights.

(This was published originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)

Thursday
Mar202014

Marietta Club Teams with DNR, Corps to Improve Allatoona Habitat

Photo by R. Dale McPherson

The Marietta BassMasters teamed up with Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers earlier this year to place much needed cover in Lake Allatoona, a 12,000-acre fishery on the Etowah River near Atlanta.

“This project will add considerable fish habitat to an area of Lake Allatoona that is largely habitat deficient,” said Dale McPherson, the club’s Conservation Chair. “Once the lake level rises and the trees flood, the strategic location of the Christmas trees will provide an excellent fishing opportunity for anglers, including bank anglers, who visit Proctor Landing.”

McPherson said that the work was organized in conjunction with DNR biologist Jim Hakala as a part of the GoFish Georgia Program. He also pointed out that improving habitat an Allatoona will be an ongoing effort.

After the Corps picked up about 275 trees at dropoff points and brought them to the landing, club members spent about 2 ½ hours drilling holes in the trunks and then securing the cover to concrete anchor points provided by DNR.

Because the flood-control lake was at winter pool for this January project, the anchor areas were dry, but will be 8 to 10 feet below the surface during spring.

Proctor Landing was chosen for habitat improvement because it receives less wave action that other portions of the fishery. Consequently, the tree bundles likely will provide cover for 6 to 7 years.

“The 25 participating members were more than half of our club membership,” said McPherson. “This was great participation from our members!”

He added that those who did not work contribute $20 each into the club’s conservation account, with some of that money used to buy the wire used to anchor the trees.

“One way or another, every Marietta BassMasters member contributes to our conservation projects.”

(This article appeared originally at Bassmaster.com)

Monday
Jul012013

Siltation, Neglect Closing Backwater Fisheries

Sedimentation along Village Creek, a tributary of the Black Warrior River. Photo from Black Warrior Riverkeeper

DEMOPOLIS, Ala. --- Raymon Harris knows what has been lost. He’s been watching it disappear for nearly 40 years.

“Some of these younger fishermen have no idea,” said the Alabama anglers and former conservation director of the Alabama B.A.S.S. Nation.

“They see a hump, with just a trickle flowing through it, and don’t realize that there’s a big slough on the other side of it. We need to educate our bass fishermen about the fact that the public paid for the right of way to these flooded waters but now we’ve lost so many of them. It’s pitiful.”

Hobson Bryan also is well acquainted with how siltation over the years has closed recreational access and diminished backwater fisheries habitat in channelized river systems maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. For 20 years, the professor at the University of Alabama and long-time B.A.S.S. member has teamed with Harris to sound the alarm about the thousands of acres being sealed off or dried up in the 12,000 miles of inland waters managed by the Corps through 207 lock chambers at 171 lock sites.

Thus far, they have little to show for their efforts. The Corps continues to focus almost exclusively on dredging main channels to facilitate commercial navigation. Meanwhile, flooded backwater areas bought with taxpayer money reverts to dry land that is reclaimed by the property owners who sold it.

“To add injury to insult, many of the water projects were justified in part by the recreational values they would generate,” Bryan said.

“The Corps has simply placed highest priority on dredging for main-channel navigation purposes, largely to the exclusion of angling and other outdoor recreation interests,” he continued. “The result is that increasing recreational fishing demand is now meeting dwindling supply opportunities.

“The transportation industry, power and other commercial interests are active, of course, in advancing their agendas. We need to get the recreational component represented.”

That might be possible, too, with the potent revelations that Thomas Wells amassed while writing a dissertation for Bryan entitled, “Policy Implications of Aging and Manipulated River systems--- Case Study: Black Warrior River.” Arguably, his work is among the first to document just how severe losses are for recreation and fisheries because of siltation in our Corps-managed rivers.

“Thomas did a thorough job of researching the issues and documenting the extent of backwater losses on the stretch of the Black Warrior River between Tuscaloosa and Demopolis,” Bryan said. “But this is indeed a problem for many, if not most, river systems in the United States.”

On a 79-mile stretch of the Black Warrior that problem is quantified by the fact that open and marginally open entrances decreased from 251 to 119 from 1965 to 2006.  Open and marginally open off-channel areas decreased by 1,225 acres--- or 26 percent.  Additionally, 643 acres simply dried up, while the average and median size of off-channel areas declined 30 and 53 percent respectively.

“In fishing terms, I have fewer fishing holes to pick from and the ones that do remain are overall smaller than in the past,” said Wells, who used aerial photography, GPS technology and on-site inspections to compile his evidence.

Dams were built in 1955 and 1962 on this portion of the river, he explained, adding that siltation had closed just three off-channel entrances by 1965. Acceleration of loss since then, he said, highlights the severity of the problem.

Harris, meanwhile, watched the quality of the bass fishery decline concurrent with the loss of valuable backwater spawning and nursery habitat in the years after the dams were built.

“You used to catch 5- to 8-pound bass consistently,” he said. “Now, I can’t tell you the last time that I saw an 8-pound fish. Most of the backwaters that produced those fish, you can’t get into anymore.”

The Alabama fisherman said that numbers have declined as well, and he pointed out that just two 5-pound bass were caught in a recent tournament with 100 boats.

“When the dams were first put up, we had great fishing for years,” he remembered. “But as the creeks filled up, the fish couldn’t get back in there to spawn, and the fishery has gone down from there.”

Sediment pours into Black Warrior from Mill Creek following rain. Photo from Black Warrior Riverkeeper.

Why has the Corps allowed this to happen? The answer to that lies more in Washington, D.C., than at Demopolis or other management offices on the rivers.

“No one foresaw the need to dredge for recreation,” an assistant site manager told B.A.S.S. Times. He added that districts have dredging policies for small boat access, but rarely have the money to clean out those areas. That’s because such work is not a line item in the budget, while main-channel navigation and hydropower are.

“We have a list always ready to go in case we do get funding,” he added.

Fisheries chief Stan Cook said that the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has worked with the Corps to identify areas “and to urge them to clean silt from inlets on a regular basis.

“During the early 2000s, some of the work was accomplished,” he said. “However, since then very little has been done to my knowledge.

“In years past, the Corps maintained the position that they need inlet dredge funding approved as a line time in their budget and those budget requests have not been approved.”

From the Corps Public Affairs Office in Washington, D.C., Doug Garman described the agency’s dredging policy and emphasized the value of its coastal and inland commercial navigation system:

“All USACE projects have congressionally authorized purposes (may include navigation, recreation, water supply, flood risk management, environment, hydropower), and USACE operates and maintains those projects within the funding provided to perform within authorized purposes.

“USACE navigation program is responsible for providing safe, reliable, highly cost-effective, and environmentally sustainable waterborne transportation systems for the movement of commercial goods and for national security needs. USACE navigation program is vital to the nation's economic prosperity and is responsible for moving over 2.3 billion tons of cargo valued at over $1.6 trillion.”

But the recreation component of these river systems is just as important, Wells and Bryan insist, and the Corps’ reluctance to maintain backwater areas threatens economic prosperity fueled by outdoor recreation.

According to Wells’ research, 372 million visits were made to Corps impoundments during 2006, with $8.1 billion spent within a 30-mile radius of those systems.

“With a multiplier effect, visitor trip spending accounted for an additional $7.8 billion and $3.9 billion in value added (wages and salaries, payroll benefits, etc.) Additionally, 104,811 jobs in local communities were supported by USACE lakes.”

Additionally, Bryan believes that the Corps is legally obligated to maintain access to side channels and backwaters. “An Alabama Law School professor is currently examining the legal issues surrounding lateral connectivity issues,” he said, adding that state water laws are important considerations as well.

“We believe that it is paramount to push for partnerships among state fish and game departments, recreational angling interests, and federal agencies to address backwater access issues.

“The Corps of Engineers has responded to barge and other transportation interests for main-channel dredging, but recreational anglers and others who use--- and have paid for--- the backwaters have been left out of the equation.”

How It Happens

What causes side channels and creek mouths to fill with sediment in river systems that have been channelized and fitted with locks and dams?

“One of the worst cases I have personally seen is the Tombigee River above Dempolis, Ala., all the way to its connection to the Tennessee River system,” said Hobson Bryan.

“I fished a B.A.S.S. tournament there a number of years ago and found that I could get in very few of the backwaters that had been open to anglers just 10 years earlier. Of course, large yachts throwing up huge wakes on this system are the major culprits in this case.

“But it is noteworthy that the Tombigbee Waterway was justified in significant part for the creation of recreational surface acreage, acreage now largely inaccessible to the general public.”

Thomas Wells, who examined a stretch of the Black Warrior River, added that “several variables” contribute to the problem. Besides wave action from barges and large pleasure craft, some filling in occurs naturally, he said.

“The dredging process (of main channels) could be accelerating the loss too,” Wells explained. Additionally, the Corps might be depositing some of that dredge material directly into side openings already filling with silt, although Wells emphasized that uplands are used most often.

He also said that private landowners are cutting down trees to reduce access to backwaters. “I saw some of that in my research.”

(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)

Saturday
Oct132012

More DNA Evidence Raises Odds That Carp Have Invaded Great Lakes

More damning evidence has just been revealed that Asian carp might already have invaded Lake Michigan via a manmade connection to the Mississippi River basin and it’s only a matter of time until numbers reach critical mass, spawning occurs, and we start seeing huge numbers of the prolific exotics.

That’s exactly what happened with snakeheads in the Potomac River. For several years, anglers caught just enough of them to remind us that they were there. Then someone found a mass of them spawning in a creek, and the population seemed to explode almost overnight.

In the case of Asian carp and Lake Michigan, researchers report that 17 of 171 samples taken from the North Shore Channel tested positive for silver carp DNA. Additionally, 17 of 57 from the Chicago River also proved positive for the genetic material.

Meanwhile, the Corps still is studying the situation.

"Asian carp are knocking at the front door of the Great Lakes, and we cannot afford to wait on a federal government that fails to act,” said Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette.

Read more here.

 

Wednesday
Jan042012

Breaking News: Invasive Species Declare Moratorium on Spreading to Allow Feds Time to Plan

Here’s some reassuring news from the federal government, which has done such a great job of protecting our ecosystems from Asian carp, quagga mussels, round gobies, and other exotic species. In case you’re still a bit groggy from all of that holiday celebrating, that previous sentence is sarcasm.

Bowing to pressure from commercial shipping interests, the exotic pet industry, and fish farmers, the federal government has done an abysmal job, and it appears that it will keep on keeping on in that vein.

As part of its Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study, the Corps of Engineers is offering 90 proposals for keeping Asian carp and other invasives from migrating into and out of the Great Lakes. Under the present schedule, those options would be narrowed by 2015, with final recommendations made to Congress the following year.

Isn’t that great? In the meantime, carp, mussels, and dozens of other invaders will halt their spread and devastation as a gesture of good faith. That’s more sarcasm, folks.

In an editorial, the Toledo Blade recently said this:

“Government officials did little to stop the northerly migration of voracious Asian carp for decades. Evidence of their DNA turned up in 2009 beyond a series of electrical barriers near Chicago that had been set up to repel a smaller and less-threatening exotic species, round gobies. The barriers have since been modified to turn away carp as well.

“That's the plan, anyway. But if it doesn't work, the carp could devastate Lake Erie. More fish are spawned and caught in Lake Erie than in all of the other Great Lakes combined. Most of the activity is in the lake's western basin, near Toledo.

“The obvious solution, widely advocated by leading Great Lakes scientists, is a complete separation of the lakes and Mississippi River watersheds. But that course would be expensive and politically controversial, requiring one of the largest engineering feats in North American history and costing billions of dollars.

“Litigation over the future of Chicago-area shipping locks pitted Illinois against other Great Lakes states, and went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Obama Administration supported efforts to keep the locks open.

“Frustrated by the agonizingly slow movement of the anti-carp bureaucracy, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) is sponsoring a measure that would require the Corps to pick up the pace. It deserves support.”

You can learn more about the Corps proposals and comment upon them (by Feb. 17) by going here. Probably would be best to avoid sarcasm in your comments.