What are prior converted croplands?
For the purpose of implementing the federal Clean Water Act, the term prior converted croplands refers to wetlands that, prior to Dec. 23, 1985, were drained or otherwise manipulated for the purpose, or having the effect, of making production of an agricultural product possible. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corps of Engineers will recognize designations of PCC made by the Secretary of Agriculture.
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.
An area is no longer considered PCC for purposes of the Clean Water Act when the area is abandoned and has reverted to wetlands. Abandonment occurs when prior converted cropland is not used for, or in support of, agricultural purposes at least once in the immediately preceding five years. For the purpose of the Clean Water Act, the EPA Administrator has the final authority to determine whether prior converted cropland has been abandoned.
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.