15th September 2014

Feature Articles

The Route to Project Approval in Environmentally Sensitive Areas

What makes land environmentally sensitive?

Consistently, creeks, trees and biological resources are looked upon by regulatory agencies as attributes worthy of preservation. Your idea of a creek may significantly differ from the regulatory agencies.

Is this area drainage / swale a creek?

Perhaps not, but it may be considered a wetland by the US Army Corps of Engineers (COE), The US Fish and Wildlife Service(USFWS), the California. Department of Fish and Game (DFG) and the California Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB) collectively known as the Resource Agencies and will require, essentially, the same regulatory process as a creek.

So what is a creek?

Well, you may believe that a creek is:

A beautiful bubbling show of dancing water, a symphony of nature’s song, a canopy with showy bursts of green lush flanking its sides, where birds sing and our kids can play.

Who wouldn’t want a creek in their backyard? Everyone would, except experienced developers and home builders, who are familiar with the long regulatory approval process a creek or wetland creates. Integrating a creek into a development project is a long and expensive process. If processed correctly, the creek becomes an amenity to the property with minimal effect on the project; however; obtaining the required permits from the Resource Agencies, (unless begun during thesite planning), will cause a significant delay. Furthermore, neighbors and other opponents, unhappy with a project, can exaggerate the project’s impact on the creek and gain many concessions from the home builder through the public hearing process.

One Bay Area City’s definition of a creek is: “A Creek is a watercourse that is naturally occurring swale or depression or engineered channel that carries fresh or estuarine water either seasonally or year around.” This creek definition varies widely from what most people believe a creek to be. Using the cities definition, a five-inch wide erosive rut in a cow pasture that is dry 8 months out of the year could be classified as a creek. It may not be a creek; however, it may support plant species, soil attributes, and periodic moisture, indicating the presence of a wetland. A wetland can be created from an overflowing horse watering trough. Over time the trough runoff has the potential to support plant and soil conditions consistent with a wetland.

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