On April 21, the United States Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers published a final rule revising (yet again) the definition of “waters of the United States” (i.e., WOTUS). This definition governs what waters receive coverage under the federal Clean Water Act. The rule significantly reduces the extent of protected waters and is the result of Executive Order 13788, signed by President Trump on February 28, 2017.
Last spring the Wisconsin Wetlands Association submitted comments opposing the draft rule, and we remain opposed to the final rule. Our objections centered on the definitive elimination of Clean Water Act protections for geographically isolated wetlands, many floodplain wetlands, and many classes of headwater streams. This policy contradicts well-established science. So much so that it earned the rebuke of the EPA’s own Science Advisory Board in official commentary on February 27, 2020.
The intent and purpose of the Clean Water Act is to protect and restore the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation’s waters, and this simply can’t be done while discounting the majority of the nation’s headwater wetlands and streams, and extensive areas of floodplain wetlands. If or when implemented, this reduction of federal protections from pollution and development will cause great damage to our nation’s waters.
The new rule is scheduled to go into effect June 22, 2020, however, lawsuits are likely that may halt or delay the rule’s implementation in a myriad of ways throughout the states. Wisconsin Wetlands Association will follow the legal challenges closely. We are committed to offering technical assistance to those efforts where needed and will provide you with updates as news emerges on how this rule will affect Wisconsin’s waters.
Despite this tumult at the federal level, Wisconsin’s wetland protection laws remain largely intact for now. Ensuring that the value and connections of all wetlands and associated streams are well understood and supported here in Wisconsin remains our top priority. We thank you for your support of these efforts.
Photo by Tracy Hames.