Prior converted croplands

Under the Federal Food Safety Act, wetlands converted to agricultural lands and cultivated with a commodity crop prior to Dec. 23, 1985, are deemed "prior converted cropland" (PCC). Conversion of a PCC wetland to a non-agricultural use requires state approval.

What are prior converted croplands?

For the purpose of implementing the federal Clean Water Act, the term prior converted croplands refers to wetlands that were drained or manipulated prior to Dec. 23, 1985 to make production of an agricultural product possible.

In other words, PCCs are wetlands that were drained, dredged, filled, leveled, or otherwise manipulated, including the removal of woody vegetation, to enable production of an agricultural product.

To be considered a PCC, the area:

  • Must have been manipulated for agricultural use prior to Dec. 23, 1985. These sites must continue to be in active agricultural use and not be abandoned. Abandonment occurs when a PCC is not used for, or in support of, agricultural purposes at least once in the immediately preceding 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 14 consecutive days or more, it would be considered a "farmed wetland." Farmed wetlands meet the wetland hydrology criterion. If a wetland was drained before Dec. 23, 1985, but wetland characteristics remain and it has surface ponding for 14 or more consecutive days in the growing season, it is a "farmed wetland" and only the original scope and effect of the drainage of the affected land can be maintained. Additional modifications may require federal Clean Water Act permitting and state authorization. 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 hydro-period during the dry season alone is not adequate).

Why are PCC wetlands subject to regulation?

In the past, wetlands that were drained and cultivated for agriculture were often exempt from federal regulation under the Clean Water Act. This was based on the belief that these wetlands had been so altered they no longer provided important wetland functions. In Washington, however, PCC wetlands perform many of the same important ecological 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.

Conversions subject to local, state, & federal laws

While many PCC areas have been extensively manipulated and drained, and some may no longer be wetlands, a PCC might meet wetland criteria (refer to the federal delineation manual and regional supplements).

If the land changes to non-agricultural use, or is abandoned, a PCC wetland may be regulated under federal, state, or local laws. Landowners with PCC wetlands who intend to develop their land should contact the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, speak with us, and connect with their city or county government to determine if the land meets the criteria for jurisdictional wetlands.

Even if not abandoned, PCC wetlands that meet wetland delineation criteria, are still regulated under the state’s Water Pollution Control Act, Shoreline Management Act, and Growth Management Act.

Conversion of a PCC wetland to non-agricultural use requires state and local approval.