Galveston Bay Wetland Mitigation Assessment and Local Government Capacity Building
Wetlands are being lost at an increasing rate in the greater Houston region. In the regional epicenter, Harris County has lost over 30% of the freshwater marshes and swamps that existed in 1992, primarily to development. Loss in some of the surrounding counties is beginning to approach these numbers. “No Net Loss” is the official policy of the wetland mitigation program administered under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. The objective of the federal No Net Loss policy is to ensure that wetland area and functions impacted or lost through development are replaced by the creation or restoration of similar wetland habitats and functionality, such that water quality in downstream waters is not degraded. However, without examining the long-term status of permitting, permit compliance, and compensatory mitigation, there is no way of knowing whether the No Net Loss policy is effective, and therefore whether changes in policy implementation might be in order. Additionally, because relatively few federal wetland permits account for impacts outside of the 100-year floodplain (11% between the year 1990 and 2012), local development decisions in the Houston-Galveston region are often made independent of the federal wetland permitting process. Two primary objectives were completed as a part of this project: 1) to evaluate the completeness of records documenting the wetland mitigation in the 8-county region surrounding Houston, Texas between 1990 and 2012 and 2) to develop a regional decision support tool that can provide information to local governments and citizens, allowing them to access information describing potential development impacts to wetlands, floodplains and water quality.