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Public Notices

Under the Corps' Regulatory Program, a public notice is the primary method for advising all interested parties of a proposed activity for which a permit is sought. Soliciting comments and information necessary to evaluate the probable impacts on the public interest. Public notices are also published to inform the public about new or proposed regulations, policies, guidance or permit procedures.

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Posted: 3/2/2012

Expiration date:

March 2, 2012
Subject: Use of Functional or Condition Assessments in California

The purpose of this notice is to advise the general public of the importance of using functional or condition assessments to assess impacts and determine appropriate compensatory mitigation for waters of the United States in California.

Under its Regulatory Program, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) issues permits for certain activities in waters of the United States pursuant to Section 404 of the Clean Water Act and Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899. The Corps may require compensatory mitigation for impacts to waters of the U.S. authorized through a permit. To find out more about the Regulatory Program, please visit our website at the link provided at the bottom of this page.

The Corp of Engineers’ April 2008, Final Rule on Compensatory Mitigation for Losses of Aquatic Resources (33CFR332.3) states, “If the district engineer determines that compensatory mitigation is necessary to offset unavoidable impacts to aquatic resources, the amount of required compensatory mitigation must be, to the extent practicable, sufficient to replace lost aquatic resource functions. In cases where appropriate functional or condition assessment methods or other suitable metrics are available, these methods should be used where practicable to determine how much compensatory mitigation is required. If a functional or condition assessment or other suitable metric is not used, a minimum one-to-one acreage or linear foot compensation ratio must be used.“ Further, for mitigation banks and in-lieu fees, “The number of credits must reflect the difference between pre- and post-compensatory mitigation project site conditions, as determined by a functional or condition assessment or other suitable metric.”

Not all ecosystems perform the same functions nor do similar ecosystems perform the same function to the same level of performance. Wetlands and other aquatic resources perform a wide variety of functions. The ability to perform a function is influenced by the characteristics of the ecosystem and the physical, chemical, and biological processes within the ecosystem. The functional capacity of a river or stream is dependent on the condition of its watershed and the functional capacity of a wetland is dependent on the condition of the land area that drains to the wetland. These systems are normally characterized in terms of their structural components and the processes that link these components, such as plants, soils, hydrology, and animals, interacting with a variety of physical, chemical, and biological processes.

Condition means the relative ability of an aquatic resource to support and maintain a community of organisms having a species composition, diversity, and functional organization comparable to reference aquatic resources in the region. Condition assessments provide a method for rating the condition of a project or mitigation site, and associated functional processes, by quantifying attributes, which reflect bundles of functions, relative to those in the reference condition for that aquatic resource or system type. Functions are the physical, chemical, and biological processes that occur in ecosystems. Functional assessments use field indicators to infer the level of specific functions performed at project or mitigation sites. They assess the capacity of an aquatic resource or ecosystem to perform the normal or characteristic activities or processes that take place in them. Functional capacity means the degree to which an area of aquatic resource performs a specific function. Both functional and condition assessments can be used to compare pre- and post site conditions.

Functional and condition assessments have been classified into three levels. Landscape Assessment (Level 1) uses remote sensing data and field surveys to inventory the wetlands and riparian habitats. Rapid Assessment (Level 2) uses visible field diagnostics and existing data to assess functions or condition at wetland and riparian sites. The California Rapid Assessment Method (CRAM) and the Corps’ Hydrogeomorphic (HGM) approach are examples of such assessment methods. Intensive Site Assessment (Level 3) provides more rigorous and quantitative field data which can then be used to supplement the results of Level 1 and level 2 methods and inform mitigation planning.

To help standardize and streamline the evaluation of aquatic resources and associated mitigation under their Regulatory programs, the three Corps Districts in California (Sacramento, San Francisco and Los Angeles) strongly encourage the use of functional or condition assessment tools, where they are available. For most individual or substantial impact (e.g., greater than ½ acre or 300 linear feet of streambed) permit actions or mitigation credit proposals, a Level 2 assessment may be appropriate.

CRAM is a standardized, condition assessment tool for rapidly assessing the ecological health of wetlands and riparian habitats in California. Information on CRAM, its application, appropriate/inappropriate uses, training and status of individual modules by wetland or system type can be found at: There are also on-going efforts to develop and refine functional assessment methods, including HGM and other science-based assessment tools for various aquatic types and systems. Information on existing HGM Guidebooks and those under development can be found at:

In complex individual permit actions or mitigation credit proposals, supplementing CRAM or HGM with more rigorous assessment methodologies is appropriate. In such cases, Level 3 information may be needed before a permit or mitigation credit decision can be made.

In addition, the California State Water Resources Control Board is considering the use of CRAM and has completed a peer-review. That document can be found at:

For more information or questions please contact the appropriate District representative below:
Sacramento-Michael Finan, (916) 557-5324
San Francisco-Jane Hicks, (415) 503-6771
Los Angeles-Cori Farrar, (213) 452-3296