Wetland and Stream Mitigation

Since the late 18th century, 90 percent of Ohio’s wetland resources have been destroyed or degraded through draining, filling or other modifications. Because of the valuable functions the remaining wetlands perform, it is imperative to ensure that all impacts to wetlands are properly mitigated. Wetland mitigation can occur by purchasing credits at an approved wetland mitigation bank, paying a fee to an approved in-lieu fee program or permittee-responsible mitigation. Permittee-responsible mitigation can include wetland restoration, wetland enhancement or wetland preservation.

Ohio EPA reviews stream and wetland mitigation projects statewide to determine if mitigation is compliant with issued 401 Water Quality Certifications and Isolated Wetland Permits.

Ohio Revised Code (ORC) section 6111.31 requires that all substantive mitigation standards, criteria, scientific methods and processes used to evaluate mitigation proposals be adopted into rules pursuant to ORC Chapter 119. This section of the statute also says that these standards, criteria, etc. may not be used until they are incorporated into rules unless the applicant has been notified in advance that Ohio EPA intends to consider those processes and procedures as part of the review process.

Ohio EPA uses the following mitigation standards, criteria, and processes to provide a sound technical basis for the review and approval of mitigation projects.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Mitigation Guidelines Checklist for the State of Ohio

Reporting Requirements

Because mitigation monitoring is a type of scientific study, the format of mitigation monitoring should follow basic scientific paper format. Each monitoring report should include an executive summary (abstract), background section, methods, results, and discussion of the results, and an overall conclusion as to degree to which the mitigation wetland is or will be capable of meeting the performance standards by the end of the monitoring period. Summary tables and appropriate graphs of floral and faunal data, IBI scores, IBI metric values, chemistry data, hydrographs, etc. should be provided that include results from prior years. Appropriate graphs or tables which compare the data collected at the mitigation wetland to the performance standards should be provided and graphs showing the trend of the data over time should be provided. Field data sheets, data summaries, and chain of custody forms should be included in appendices.

Refer to the Monitoring Report Guidelines and Monitoring Report Checklist for more details. 

Qualitative Habitat Evaluation Index (QHEI)

The QHEI index is designed to provide a measure of habitat that generally corresponds to those physical factors that affect fish communities and which are generally important to other aquatic life (for example, invertebrates). The index is based on six interrelated metrics: substrate; in-stream cover; channel morphology; riparian and bank condition; pool and riffle quality; and gradient.

Headwater Habitat Evaluation Index (HHEI)

The Federal Clean Water Act provides for "maintaining the biological integrity of the nation's waters", from the mouths to the headwaters. In carrying out the regulatory responsibilities for streams in the State of Ohio, there is a need for a methodology that deals with proposed activities in the extreme headwaters areas, what Ohio EPA calls "primary headwater habitat” (PHWH) streams. It is well established in the scientific literature that headwater streams of the kind addressed in this manual are important to the quality of water and biological communities in larger streams to which these primary headwater streams are tributary.

Ohio EPA developed this manual to provide standardized assessment methodologies for conducting use attainability analysis of primary headwater habitat streams. The methods provided in this manual are used to properly classify the actual and expected biological conditions in primary headwater habitat streams.

Vegetation Index of Biotic Integrity (VIBI)

The factors in natural wetlands which can be degraded by human activity fall into several broad classes: biogeochemistry, habitat, hydrology and biotic interactions. The quantitative measurement (assessment) of the degree of integrity of a particular natural system, and conversely the degree of impairment, degradation or impoverishment, can be attempted in many ways. Ohio EPA began working on the development of biological criteria using vascular plants in 1996.

The Vegetation Index of Biotic Integrity (VIBI) is a robust analysis of wetland ecologic condition, which has been calibrated to a wide variety of community types, hydrogeomorphic (HGM) classes, and ecoregions across Ohio. This peer-reviewed, nationally accepted and respected method has been the standard tool for assessing wetland condition in both natural and mitigation wetlands in Ohio for much of the past decade. In addition to mitigation banks, it is also a standard 401 permit requirement for monitoring permittee-responsible compensatory mitigation.

Amphibian Index of Biotic Integrity (AmphIBI)

Amphibians have long been recognized as sensitive indicator species of environmental conditions. While not all of the causes are clearly identifiable, it is thought that this environmental sensitivity has lead to recent worldwide declines of amphibians. Potential causes include habitat loss or degradation, acid deposition, climate warming, increases in UV radiation, spread of toxic substances, and introduction of predators. This sensitivity to the state of the environment make amphibians an excellent taxa group to provide information on environmental conditions including those in wetlands.

The Amphibian Index of Biotic Integrity (AmphIBI) for Ohio wetlands was previously developed using the amphibian communities of wetlands as indicators of overall wetland condition. The AmphIBI provides a tool for determining wetland condition and works well for forested and shrub sites.

IBI and ICI for Streams

The Index of Biotic Integrity (IBI) is designed to measure the aquatic vertebrate community and the surrounding conditions by using fish species as indicators. Overall, there are 12 fish community variables that can be broken down into three main categories: species richness and composition, trophic composition, and fish abundance and condition. By assessing the variables within these parameters, scientists can compare a sampled site with a relatively undisturbed site with similar geographical and climatic conditions. With this rationale, the only variable would be stressors resulting from human development and disturbance.

The Invertebrate Community Index (ICI) is very similar to the IBI and measures the health of the macroinvertebrate community. This index is comprised of 10 metrics where sampled sites are also compared to relatively undisturbed sites with similar geographical features. Both IBI and ICI are useful tools for biological measuring of aquatic environments, but IBI is often the preferred method; fish are generally longer lived and can therefore represent environmental changes over a longer period of time. 

Read more from the Biological Criteria for the Protection of Aquatic Life (Ohio EPA, Feb. 1988).

Special Waters List

Mitigation Compliance Unit
Sainey, Eric Section Manager (614) 644-2020
Kilbourne, Andrea Mitigation Compliance (614) 466-6308
Babb, Thomas Mitigation Compliance (614) 914-4243

In this video, Agency expert Ric Queen talks about how wetlands are protected and replaced when impacts are necessary.