Prior converted croplands/wetlands information

Conversion of a prior converted cropland to non-agricultural use requires our approval.

What are prior converted croplands?

For the purpose of implementing the federal Food Security Act, the term prior converted croplands (PCCs) 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 drained, dredged, filled, leveled, or otherwise manipulated, including the removal of woody vegetation, to enable agricultural production.

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.
  • 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).

Conversion of a PCC to a non-agricultural use may be subject to local, state, and federal regulation

While many PCC areas have been extensively manipulated and drained, and some may no longer be wetlands, a PCC might meet the federal and state wetland hydrology criteria (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 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, speak with us, and connect with 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, are still regulated under the state’s Water Pollution Control Act, the Shoreline Management Act, and the Growth Management Act. Conversion of a PCC wetland to non-agricultural use requires state and local approval.

Why are PCC wetlands subject to regulation?

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
  • 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.

Delineating wetlands on agricultural lands

In 1994, the United States Departments of Agriculture, Interior, and Army and the Environmental Protection Agency 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, promote consistency between the CWA and the FSA, and provide predictability and simplification for U.S. Department of Agriculture program participants. 

In January 2005, both the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) withdrew from the MOA. The MOA was replaced with the NRCS and Corps Joint Guidance on Conducting Wetland Delineations for the Food Security Act of 1985 and Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (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 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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