In 2010, the Kentucky Division of Water received a Wetland Program Development Grant to develop a Rapid Wetland Assessment Method that could be used in Clean Water Act Section 401 and 404 permitting decisions. A team of Kentucky state and federal resource agencies known as the Technical Work Group (TWG), was assembled to develop the assessment with the goal of rapidly assessing the ecological integrity of existing natural wetlands. Over four years of discussions, field work and data analyses, the TWG developed the first version of Kentucky’s rapid wetland assessment known as the KY-WRAM.
In collaboration with Eastern Kentucky University, we have assessed over 300 wetlands across the Commonwealth using KY-WRAM, encompassing all ecoregions and a diverse array of types: sloughs, sinkhole depressions, woodland vernal pools, wet bottomlands and seeps. Initial work on intensive assessments for vegetation, amphibians, bird and aquatic insects has shown that KY-WRAM is sensitive to the quality continuum and repeatable. The most recent version of KY-WRAM and its guidance manual are available for download here:
The Wetlands Prioritization Tool: A Method to Prioritize Wetlands for Restoration or Protection
The KY-WRAM has value as a rapid wetland assessment method in itself, but it was created to assist Clean Water Act § 401 and 404 regulatory decisions. Currently, wetland impacts in Kentucky are mitigated at a 2:1 ratio, without regard to the quality or type of wetland impacted, only acreage. Because of severe historic wetland loss, it is prudent to protect wetlands from further degradation and loss, especially ones of higher quality. Validation studies indicate the KY-WRAM is successful in assessing condition and although it is not officially part of the § 401 and 404 permitting process, it has been preliminarily “rolled-out” to be vetted, and expectantly adopted, to determine the amount of mitigation required to offset impacts. However, it was not intended to prioritize such mitigation. The development of the Wetlands Prioritization Tool (WPT) takes that step.
The WPT is an Excel model that uses data gathered by KY-WRAM and incorporates it into the decision making process. The tool allows 5 choices of ecosystem services: General, Flood Flow Alteration, Sediment Retention, Water Quality/Nutrient Removal, and Wildlife Diversity and Abundance. These services were further appraised in light of the three categories described by Adamus et al (1987): social significance, effectiveness, and opportunity. A decision was made to weight the social significance category by use of economic valuation while the other categories were based on giving more or less weight to individual KY-WRAM metrics depending on whether the metric reflects a main influence of the ecosystem service under consideration. The weighted metrics are then summed to give a final score and ranking in order to compare the wetlands under consideration.
An outcome from this project is a better understanding of the factors that are important in planning wetlands protection and mitigation projects. The WPT can be used not only for § 401 and 404 regulatory decisions, but also for organizations seeking to gain the best return on investment for their efforts to protect or restore wetlands. The successful implementation of the WPT by partner organizations will result in an increased quality and quantity of wetlands by providing a means to determine which wetland projects will provide the best return on ecosystem services for the investment provided.
For more detailed information on the WPT, read the full report [3332 KB]. For a copy of the the Excel model, email Caroline Chan.