It's All About Water for San Francisco Regulatory Staff

Published May 2, 2016

"Water affects everything we do in California," which is why, according to Sahrye Cohen of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers San Francisco district, "the Corps' main regulatory goal is to balance impacts to aquatic resources and the environment with the ability to have appropriate develpment in the Bay Area."

As part of the 1972 Clean Water Act as well as the Rivers and Habors Act that became law nearly a century earlier, the Corps of Engineers became the chief federal stewa...rd of wetlands, waterways and marshes in the Bay Area and is responsible for ensuring environmental preservation while allowing for development. In cases where an impact on water resources is unavoidable, a permit for development must be obtained from the Corps and that's where Cohen and other district regulators come in. "We strive to use the best available science and information in order to make decisions about whether wetlands and other waterways can be filled for buildings, ecosystem restoration or other uses," while at the same time "minimizing the impact of development in order to preserve the grestest function for those wetland areas."

The permitting process takes into consideration the interests of the public, which in water-starved California can be very strong, as Cohen and others on the Corps' San Francisco district's regulatory staff are well aware. "We are probably looking at a future of limited water and limited resources and regulatory is one of the major federal programs that decides how water and wetland areas will be used."

One measure of the San Francisco district's regulatory success is its ability to balance the expanding demand for housing in the Bay Area against the risks to fragile wetlands. "We spend alot of time working with developers to help them situate their projects where they will have the least impact on rare wetlands," said Cohen. "We do our best to balance how those areas are affected and to help the Bay Area plan for smart development and the use of waterfront areas."

In addition to development, regulatory staff also oversee projects intended to counter sea level rise, including authorizing projects that construct wetlands as well as managed retreat of developments away from the shoreline.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers San Francisco district is marking 150 years of providing service along the Pacific Coast and is offering anecdotes, historical profiles and events to mark the anniversary.