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.
Biden Administration Plans to Reinstate Pre-2015 "Waters of the United States" Regulations and Develop A New Rule
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. Unfortunately, in 2020, the Trump Administration repealed the 2015 rule and replaced it with a much narrower rule. That rule excluded ephemeral features that contain water only during or in response to heavy rains or snow, groundwater, and most roadside or farm ditches. It also left out waters and wetlands that cross state boarders from federal protection.
The Biden administration plans to reinstate the pre-2015 WOTUS regulations and then develop a new definition of WOTUS that better protects our nation's vital water resources.
Securinge these safeguards will have positive impacts to the watershed as a whole, and will be particularly important in Delaware, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia, as they rely on the federal definition of WOTUS to protect wetlands and streams in their jurisdiction.