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Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) Process

How Natural Resource Damage Assessment Works

After an oil spill or hazardous substance release, response agencies like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or the U.S. Coast Guard clean up the substance and eliminate or reduce risks to human health and the environment. But these efforts may not fully restore injured natural resources or address their lost uses by the public. Through the NRDA process, DARRP and co-trustees conduct studies to identify the extent of resource injuries, the best methods for restoring those resources, and the type and amount of restoration required.

NOAA conducts the following three steps in an NRDA:

1. Preliminary Assessment

Natural resource trustees determine whether injury to public trust resources has occurred. Their work includes collecting time-sensitive data and reviewing scientific literature about the released substance and its impact on trust resources to determine the extent and severity of injury. If resources are injured, trustees proceed to the next step.

2. Injury Assessment/Restoration Planning

Trustees quantify injuries and identify possible restoration projects. Economic and scientific studies assess the injuries to natural resources and the loss of services. These studies are also used to develop a restoration plan that outlines alternative approaches to speed the recovery of injured resources and compensate for their loss or impairment from the time of injury to recover.

3. Restoration Implementation

The final step is to implement restoration and monitor its effectiveness. Trustees work with the public to select and implement restoration projects. Examples of restoration include replanting wetlands, improving fishing access sites, and restoring salmon streams. The responsible party pays the costs of assessment and restoration and is often a key participant in implementing the restoration.

Although the concept of assessing injuries may sound simple, understanding complex ecosystems, the services these ecosystems provide, and the injuries caused by oil and hazardous substances takes time—often years. The season the resource was injured, the type of oil or hazardous substance, and the amount and duration of the release are among the factors that affect how quickly resources are assessed and restoration and recovery occurs. The rigorous scientific studies that are necessary to prove injury to resources and services—and withstand scrutiny in a court of law—may also take years to implement and complete. But the NRDA process described above ensures an objective and cost-effective assessment of injuries—and that the public's resources are fully addressed.

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