(ALEXANDRIA, Va.) Since 2007 the Regulatory In-lieu fee and Bank Information Tracking System (RIBITS), overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Institute for Water Resources (IWR), has been the designated national tool to provide a one stop shop database for districts to track mitigation banks and in-lieu fee programs.
RIBITS was one of a handful of systems highlighted at the first-ever Environmental Permitting Technology and Data Summit held at the White House and the General Service Administration Headquarters in late October.
According to a read out of the event provided by the White House, the summit brought together federal and state agency staffs, non-profits, academia, and industry leaders to discuss how software and other tools can deliver more effective and efficient environmental reviews.
RIBITS, a cloud-based service residing on IWR’s Civil Works Business Intelligence system, provides users with comprehensive information on third party compensatory mitigation operations including, provider contact information, credit ledgers, credit availability, geographic service areas, bank and in-lieu fee program documentation, reports and queries, and information on national, regional, and local compensatory mitigation policies and practices.
Mitigation banks provide wetland, stream, or other aquatic resource areas that have been restored, established, enhanced, or in certain circumstances preserved, for the purpose of providing compensation for unavoidable impacts to aquatic resources by property owners or developers. Ideally mitigation is in the same watershed as the impact project.
In-lieu fee programs allow for permittees to provide funds to a sponsor (a government or non-profit entity) to implement a compensatory mitigation project, instead of completing a specific project themselves (permittee-responsible mitigation) or purchasing credits from an approved mitigation bank. In-lieu fee programs are an important tool for providing mitigation for small impacts to a specific aquatic resource or in rural regions where mitigation bank sponsors don’t have an incentive to operate (too few authorized impacts to justify the cost of developing a mitigation bank).
RIBITS is the data backbone for compensatory mitigation and contains data on nearly 5,000 operational, pending, sold-out and terminated mitigation banks, and in-lieu fee programs and project sites for USACE, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries, and U.S. Department of Agriculture. The system also includes information about 76 operational or sold-out in-lieu fee programs located across the country.
Originally developed by the Engineering Research and Development Center for the USACE Mobile District Regulatory Division in 2002, the system has evolved from its early days where it only tracked wetland mitigation bank credits.
Today, the system serves multiple agencies outside of USACE, providing them with a tool to track items like endangered species habitat conservations banks, overlapping credit resources, water quality trading and more.
The system is always being updated to meet end user needs.
“Our focus right now is on making RIBITS easier to use by incorporating plain language wherever we can and providing readable instructional text on every page,” said Valerie Layne, RIBITS technical lead for IWR. “We are also working on quality assurance and quality controls; we depend on the field to enter data and also to provide suggestions for how we can make their workflow easier,” she continued.
According to Michelle Mattson, an ecologist at IWR who manages the budget and works to facilitate enhancement requests from the end-users, the RIBITS team is continuing to look toward the future on what can be enhanced in the system.
“RIBITS has the potential to do more. One idea that has been explored conceptually is adding a query-able database function and data from permittee-responsible mitigation projects (mitigation that is completed by a permittee instead of purchasing credits). This would provide USACE and the public full transparency on where and how the full suite of compensatory mitigation is being implemented to meet the mission of the Clean Water Act Section 404 Regulatory program,” Mattson said. “A query-able database would make the entire data set available “on demand” instead of hidden in individual pdfs or spreadsheets. If raw monitoring data was available, searchable, and mappable by users it could be used to support restoration site identification, design, performance standard development, and monitoring program development. As well as provide collaboration and learning opportunities across the public and private sectors to improve restoration and compensatory mitigation outcomes, she continued.
For the past two decades RIBITS has proven to be a valuable tool for USACE and beyond. Having the system highlighted at a White House event has been a welcome development for the team.
“Beyond proud! This is a database that is broadly used and critical to the USACE Regulatory compensatory mitigation program. Users love the tool, and it continues to expand as feedback is gathered and enhancements implemented through our operations and maintenance contract. We feel the database has a ton of potential to do more for the program, and the compensatory mitigation and restoration fields,” said Mattson.
RIBITS can be found online at https://ribits.ops.usace.army.mil/ords/f?p=107:2:23176607003049::NO
The Institute for Water Resources is a USACE Field Operating Activity that primarily supports the USACE Civil Works mission by providing forward-looking analysis, cutting-edge methodologies, and innovative tools to aid the Civil Works program. It consists of seven centers that include the Water Resources Center (WRC), Navigation and Civil Works Decision Support Center (NDC), Collaboration and Public Participation Center of Expertise (CPCX), and International Center for Integrated Water Resources Management (ICIWaRM) all located in Alexandria, VA; Hydrologic Engineer Center (HEC) in Davis, CA; Risk Management Center (RMC) located in Lakewood, CO, Pittsburg, PA, and Louisville, KY; and the Waterborne Commerce Statistics Center (WCSC) located in New Orleans, LA.