The President’s Administration announced today a proposed landmark  rule that will clarify which types of water bodies are protected by the Clean Water Act. Two Supreme Court decisions over the past decade have left about 20 million wetland acres and 2 million miles of streams at increased risk of pollution and degradation.

Tim Gestwicki, CEO of the North Carolina Wildlife Federation, in response:

“This is a huge step forward for protecting our waters and wildlife. We simply cannot protect our rivers, lakes, and bays without protecting the many small streams and wetlands that feed into them.”

“The proposal clarifies which waters are—and which are not—protected by the Clean Water Act. It will protect many streams and wetlands that are currently in legal limbo. The rule also specifically excludes many man-made ditches, ponds, and irrigation systems and honors the law’s current exemptions for normal farming, ranching, and forestry practices.”

“From mountain trout anglers, to piedmont bass enthusiasts and duck hunters in eastern NC, this is a critical step towards protecting our sporting heritage and our outdoor future.”

North Carolinians depend on their 242,500 miles of rivers and streams for clean and abundant drinking water, diverse and abundant fish and wildlife habitat, and local fishing, hunting, bird-watching, and boating recreation that support a strong outdoor recreation economy.  Wildlife recreation related activities lead to $3.3 billion spent per year in NC alone.  These expenditures support more than 95,000 jobs in the state.

But over half of these stream miles flow intermittently or are headwater streams that are now at risk of pollution and degradation.  Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 and related agency guidance have confused and limited the scope of the Clean Water Act and made it much more difficult to maintain and restore North Carolina’s intermittently flowing streams, headwaters, and freshwater wetlands.

Weakened stream and wetland protections at the federal level leave these waters more vulnerable to adverse impacts from development and discharges of pollutants which ultimately could result in changing water temperatures, increasing erosion and sedimentation, changing nutrient levels, lowering water quality, and degrading critical and unique fish and wildlife habitats. The dredging and filling of these waters also reduces their flood storage capacity and increases flooding and flood damage downstream.

Gestwicki stated, “in order to effectively safeguard key components of our economy, the hunting and fishing sports and traditions that North Carolinians enjoy, and the health and integrity of some of our most important natural resources, it is essential to act now to begin restoring lost Clean Water Act protections as consistent with existing law and science.”

The rulemaking process will clarify and strengthen the Army Corps of Engineers and Environmental Protection Agency regulatory definitions of “waters of the United States.”  A successful rulemaking process can provide clarity about the specific waters covered by the Act – clarity that is badly needed by land owners, developers, conservationists, and state and federal agencies alike.

The Federation is urging the NC delegation to support the new rule making.

Logo courtesy North Carolina Wildlife Federation

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