Better Understanding of Wetland Benefits Will Help Water Bank and Other Federal Programs Achieve Wetland Preservation Objectives

PAD-79-10: Published: Feb 8, 1979. Publicly Released: Feb 8, 1979.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the opportunities available to agencies which have management responsibilities related to wetland preservation.

The review found that the Department of Agriculture's Water Bank Program could be made more effective by changing the Water Bank Act to increase the Secretary of Agriculture's flexibility in administering the program. This should help preserve some wetlands and enhance their value. Further improvement should result from better information about the program's operation. Traditionally, emphasis has been on the value of wetlands to waterfowl and other wildlife; other wetland values such as flood control, pollution and sediment control, and groundwater supply have been neglected. Other federal wetland protection programs also suffer from a lack of information. This hampers congressional decisionmaking on funding priorities among the programs. A coordinated data collection effort between the several responsible federal agencies is required.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: The Water Bank Act should be modified by: (1) including at least shrub and wooded swamp types so that the Secretary of Agriculture would be able to protect any wetland, not just nesting and breeding areas; (2) making provision for the impending change by the Department of the Interior of its wetland classification system; and (3) permitting the Secretary to take actions to reduce the termination rate by adjusting the payment rate during the period of an agreement in order that the payment might keep pace with changes in land values and rental rates resulting from inflation. Congress may also wish to consider the necessity of protecting wetlands with high values for non-waterfowl benefits.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: A coordinated approach to wetland preservation should be developed through the establishment of an interagency task force which would include the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Army Corps of Engineers. This task force should focus on: (1) an improved characterization of wetlands; (2) an assessment of different mechanisms; and (3) an assessment of the impact of federal public work projects and cost-sharing programs. Agriculture should resolve some of the outstanding issues regarding the administration of the Water Bank program by: (1) developing and formulating criteria for assessing the likelihood of drainage or other actions which may destroy or degrade wetlands and determining the value of adjacent upland cover for the purpose of setting priorities; (2) determining the penalties and payment rate changes to minimize terminations, consistent with a favorable benefit-cost ratio; (3) incorporating the effect of terminations in assessing the program's benefit-cost ratio; (4) determining the conditions under which temporary releases for haying and grazing are justified, and basing payment forfeitures on the time required to recover the cover; (5) determining the payment rate differential when the wetlands are already protected by drainage easements; and (6) identifying the most beneficial wetlands needing protection and actively seeking farmer participation.

    Agency Affected:

 

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