(WASHINGTON, DC)—In an unprecedented assault on the Clean Water Act, the Trump Administration today unveiled a new rule slashing federal protections for wetlands and waterways that are essential to restoring the Chesapeake Bay.
The administration's new definition of "Waters of the United States" unravels safeguards in place since the landmark law was enacted in 1972. It excludes streams that only flow after heavy rains or snow, groundwater, and most roadside and farm ditches. It also leaves out waters and wetlands that cross state borders.
The Chesapeake Bay is fed by an intricate network of creeks, streams, and rivers spanning tens of thousands of miles and 1.5 million acres of wetlands, which play an essential role supporting the waters and diverse wildlife of the Bay's 64,000 square-mile watershed. Wetlands trap polluted runoff, absorb storm surges, slow the flow of pollutants into the Bay, and provide critical habitat for the region's birds, fish, invertebrates, and mammals.
In the Bay watershed, the rule will do the most damage in Delaware, the District of Columbia, and West Virginia, which primarily rely on the federal definition to protect wetlands and streams within their borders. Almost 200,000 acres of wetlands in Delaware alone are now at risk of destruction. Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, and Virginia have additional state water protection programs, but will still feel the impact because their programs all have holes the rule will only make worse.
Lisa Feldt, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's (CBF) Vice President of Environmental Protection and Restoration, made this statement about the new rule:
"This rule poses a dangerous threat to our efforts to restore the Chesapeake Bay and mitigate the effects of climate change. By acting as natural pollution filters, wetlands are vital to improving water quality. Their marshy waters shelter many of the Bay's birds and animals and provide our first line of defense against climate change by absorbing floodwaters and protecting local communities.
"Recognizing the value of wetlands, in 2014 EPA and the other cleanup partners committed to creating, reestablishing, or restoring 235,000 acres of wetlands by 2025. Gutting federal protections for wetlands undermines that commitment and risks derailing our decades long restoration effort at a critical time.
"The Bay has made encouraging progress in the ten years since we adopted the Clean Water Blueprint, the science-based plan for restoring it to good health. But the recovery is fragile, and the 2025 implementation deadline is approaching fast. We need the Trump administration to lead the way, not sabotage our efforts to save this national treasure."