The Chesapeake Bay receives half of its water from an intricate network of 111,000 miles of creeks, streams, and rivers and 1.7 million acres of wetlands. Wetlands are low-lying areas covered by water some or all of the time. Coastal or tidal wetlands are 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.
- 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.
Proposed Rollbacks to the Protections of Wetlands or the "Clean Water Rule"
In 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) finalized a new definition of 'Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) – or the 2015 Clean Water Rule. This definition of WOTUS provided clarity about what types of wetlands require Section 402 and Section 404 Clean Water Act permits that are essential to Bay restoration.
In repsonse 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 Corps initiated a two-step process to repeal and replace the 2015 Clean Water Rule.
Step 1: In 2017, EPA and the Corps proposed rules to recodify the regulatory language that was in place prior to the 2015 Clean Water Rule and change the effective date of that rule to 2020. CBF opposed all of these proposals.
Step 2: In December of 2018, EPA and the Corps announced their proposal to replace the 2015 Clean Water Rule. Among other things, their proposal narrows the definition of WOTUS so that features that only contain water during or in response to rainfall (ephemeral features), groundwater, many ditches (including most roadside or farm ditches), prior converted cropland, stormwater control features, and waste treatment systems would not be included.
As CBF’s Vice President for Environmental Protection and Restoration, Lisa Feldt, says:
“The Chesapeake Bay Foundation strongly opposes these limits to the Clean Water Act, one of the bedrock environmental laws protecting the Chesapeake Bay.
Wetlands are critical to the protection and restoration of the Chesapeake Bay. They act as buffers, absorbing pollution before it enters local rivers and streams, and also reduce storm surges help control flooding. Protecting and increasing wetland acreage is essential to achieve the goals of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint and the Chesapeake Bay Agreement.
The new proposal will have the greatest impacts to the Bay states that do not have additional wetlands protections or rely on the federal program, like Delaware, West Virginia and the District of Columbia. This will make it more difficult for the Bay states with stricter wetland protection programs, like Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania to hold upstream states accountable for water pollution that crosses state lines.”
CBF submitted comment opposing these changes.