Yesterday, the United States Supreme Court issued a decision (Sackett vs. EPA) that substantially narrows the scope of wetlands protected under the federal Clean Water Act (CWA) to those wetlands “with a continuous surface connection to bodies that are waters of the United States in their own right.”
Yesterday’s ruling is the latest development in a more than 50-year dispute over the meaning of specific terms in the statutes. And it is consequential. We’ve learned a lot in 50 years of wetland science, including that all waters are connected, and that clean water and safe communities are not possible without abundant and healthy wetlands. Unfortunately, federal policy no longer reflects this truth. It will take a grassroots movement and an act of Congress to correct that.
In the meantime, Wisconsin Wetlands Association will continue to do what we’ve done for the last 53 years. This includes working to maintain and develop statewide wetland policies and programs, promoting understanding of wetlands, increasing public and private investments in wetlands conservation, and helping local communities protect and restore wetlands to solve problems.
In rendering this decision, the majority did note that the CWA protects the primary responsibilities and rights of States to prevent, reduce, and eliminate pollution and to plan the development and use of land and water resources.
Wisconsin has embraced and embodied this philosophy for years. Our leaders have never allowed federal policy to dictate where, how, or why we protect wetlands. As a result, the majority of Wisconsin wetlands and streams that lost federal protections today remain protected under current state law.
We are grateful for the many actions Wisconsin’s elected officials and courts have taken, over many years, to enable these safeguards, and remain confident that Wisconsin’s policy-makers will continue to make decisions to protect and restore Wisconsin’s wetlands for the critical benefits they provide. These benefits include keeping our waters clean and healthy, protecting our communities from the effects of runoff and floods, and providing the conditions needed to sustain robust populations of fish and wildlife.
Wetland Coffee Break: Implications of the Sackett decision for Wisconsin: Early takes from the front lines