What Are Wetlands?
The Chesapeake Bay receives half of its water from the Atlantic Ocean and the other half from an intricate network of hundreds of thousands of miles of creeks, streams, and rivers and 1.5 million acres of wetlands. Wetlands are low-lying areas covered by water some or all of the time. Coastal or tidal wetlands include shallow tributaries and other areas affected by changes in the tides. Inland or non-tidal wetlands are "ephemeral" or "intermittent" streams or ponds surrounded by dry land. They may be located in floodplains and their water levels may be affected by groundwater or rainfall. Whether tidal or inland, permanent or intermittent, they are a critical component of the protection and restoration of the Bay.
Why Are Wetlands Important?
- soak up excess water from storm surges, helping to mitigate flooding in surrounding areas,
- trap polluted runoff, slowing the flow of excess nutrients, sediments, and chemical contaminants into the Bay; and
- provide unique and often delicate habitat for fish, birds, mammals, and invertebrates.
Unfortunately, however, they are threatened by development, invasive species and sea level rise caused by climate change. They must be protected.
Trump Administration Slashes "Clean Water Rule" Wetlands Protections
In 2015, EPA finalized the Clean Water Rule, defining "Waters of the United States" (WOTUS) in a way that provided clarity about what types of wetlands require Section 402 and Section 404 Clean Water Act permits, which are essential to Bay restoration. In response to President Trump's Executive Order 13778 entitled "Restoring the Rule of Law, Federalism, and Economic Growth by Reviewing the 'Waters of the United States' Rule," EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers initiated a two-step process to repeal and replace the Clean Water Rule. On September 12, 2019, the agencies finalized the repeal of the rule. CBF and more than 2,000 of our members submitted comments opposing the significantly limited proposed replacement rule. Unfortunately, the administration finalized the replacement rule on January 23, 2020.
The new rule narrows the definition of WOTUS, excluding ephemeral features that contain water only during or in response to heavy rains or snow, groundwater, and most roadside or farm ditches. It also leaves out waters and wetlands that cross state boarders. This limited rule will do the most damage in Delaware, West Virginia and the District of Columbia, which are governed by federal law and rely on the federal definition of WOTUS to protect wetlands and streams in their jurisdiction. This loss of these safeguards will have impacts to the watershed as a whole.
"These actions continue the Administration's assault on clean water," said CBF Vice President for Environmental Protection and Restoration Lisa Feldt. "The repeal ignores EPA's own science and the lengthy and inclusive process that was used to develop the 2015 rule. Maintaining the health of these waterways and wetlands is crucial to protecting downstream waters.
"The Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint is designed to put practices on the ground to restore water quality in local rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay. Gutting federal protections for wetlands undermines that commitment and risks derailing our decades long restoration effort at a critical time."