Prior converted croplands (PCCs) are identified for the purpose of implementing the Food Security Act (FSA), and refers to wetlands that were converted from a non-agricultural use to production of a commodity crop prior to December 23, 1985. In other words, PCCs are wetlands that were drainined, dredged, filled, leveled, or otherwise manipulated, including the removal of woody vegetation, to enable production of an agricultural commodity.
To be considered a PCC, the area must have had an agricultural commodity planted or produced at least once prior to December 23, 1985. After 1985 these sites must continue to be in active agricultural use. This means a commodity crop that requires annual tilling must be produced at least once every five years.
In addition, PCCs must not have standing water present for more than 14 consecutive days during the growing season. If an agricultural site has standing water for greater than 14 consecutive days it would be considered a "farmed wetland." Many farmed areas in valleys flood throughout the winter and would not be considered PCC. Therefore, it is important to document surface water levels throughout the year (i.e., determining the hydroperiod during the dry season alone is not adequate).
While many PCC areas have been extensively manipulated and drained, and some may no longer be wetlands, a PCC area may meet the federal and state wetland hydrology criterion (refer to the federal delineation manual and regional supplements). If the land changes to non-agricultural use, or is abandoned, a PCC area may be regulated under federal, state or local laws. Landowners, who intend to develop their land or conduct an activity that precludes use of the land for continued agricultural production, should contact the Corps, Ecology and the local government (city/town or county) to determine if the land meets the criteria for jurisdictional wetlands under applicable laws.
Even if not abandoned, PCC wetlands, like isolated wetlands, that meet the state’s wetland delineation criteria (Chapter 173-22-080 WAC) are still regulated under the state’s Water Pollution Control Act (Chapter 90.48 RCW), the Shoreline Management Act, and the Growth Management Act. Conversion of a PCC wetland to non-agricultural use requires state and local approval.
In the past, PCC wetlands were often exempt from federal regulation under the Clean Water Act, based on the belief that these wetlands had been so altered they no longer provided important wetland functions. However, PCC wetlands in Washington perform many of the same important environmental functions as other wetlands, including recharging streams and aquifers, storing flood waters, filtering pollutants from water and providing wildlife habitat. In some cases, PCC wetlands have been significantly altered so they provide only minimal functions. However, in many cases, PCC wetlands provide important hydrologic functions and may provide significant wildlife habitat.
In 1994, the Departments of Agriculture, Interior, and Army and the EPA entered into a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA), Guidance on Conducting Wetland Determinations for the Food Security Act (FSA) and Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (CWA). The MOA was developed to streamline the wetland delineation process on agricultural lands, to promote consistency between the CWA and the FSA, and to provide predictability and simplification for U.S. Department of Agriculture program participants.
In January 2005 both the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Department of the Army withdrew from the MOA. The MOA was replaced with the Corps and NRCS Joint Guidance on Conducting Wetland Delineations for the Food Security Act of 1985 and Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (PDF, February 25, 2005). This guidance addresses the responsibility of NRCS for performing wetland delineations for the FSA and the Corps for delineations for CWA Section 404 purposes. Also see Key Points - February 28, 2005 (PDF) for the rationale for withdrawal from the 1994 MOA.
The 2005 MOA also states that the identification of prior converted croplands (PCC) made by NRCS remains valid as long as the area is devoted to an agricultural use. If the land changes to a non-agricultural use, the PCC determination is no longer applicable and a new wetland determination is required for Clean Water Act purposes. Specific guidance will be provided by the Corps in the future addressing how the Corps will treat PCC designations for land that changes from agricultural to non-agricultural use.
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