WASHINGTON – Sept. 18, 2013 – On Tuesday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a 331-page draft report entitled, Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters: A Review and Synthesis of the Scientific Evidence
. It will be published in the Federal Register with a 45-day period of public review and comment. The strength of the report’s science and conclusions about the linkages, or connectivity, between wetlands
, streams and other waters will be a key consideration in determining the extent to which Clean Water Act protections can be restored to many wetlands vital to maintaining waterfowl populations.
In a related action, the EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also announced that a proposed new rule regarding Clean Water Act jurisdiction has been submitted to the Office of Management and Budget for interagency review.
“We applaud the agencies for finally moving the proposed new rule forward with full public review and comment,” said Ducks Unlimited CEO Dale Hall. “Because of the confusion introduced by the court decisions, everyone from conservation organizations to development interests to Supreme Court justices have been calling for a rulemaking. This is long overdue.”
Wetlands like prairie potholes, rainwater basins and playas had been protected for nearly 30 years by the Clean Water Act (CWA) of 1972. However, two U.S. Supreme Court cases in 2001 and 2006 resulted in the withdrawal of CWA protections from more than 20 million acres of vital wetlands.
In fact, the latest U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wetlands status and trends report for 2004-2008¬¬, the first full assessment period since the first of the Supreme Court cases, showed that the rate of wetland loss had increased by 140 percent since the 1998-2004 period. Acceleration of wetland drainage had not been documented since the CWA was first enacted. Two other recent studies documented the loss of hundreds of thousands of acres of wetlands in the prairie pothole states of North Dakota
, South Dakota
in recent years.
“Unless wetland protections are restored and drainage is held in check, the negative impacts to waterfowl populations could be dramatic,” said DU Director of Conservation Planning and Policy Scott Yaich. “The key to restoring protection to the duck factory’s wetlands is scientifically demonstrating that they are connected to downstream waters in various ways. Drainage of prairie wetlands increases the severity of flooding, impacts water quality and affects fish and wildlife in downstream navigable waters. In that light, we welcome EPA’s release of this draft synthesis of the science related to these connections for public review and comment.”
The EPA’s draft report is intended to be a synthesis of all the peer-reviewed science related to the connections that exist between wetlands, streams and downstream waters. A special Scientific Advisory Board panel has been named and will carefully review the report for the completeness of its science and the conclusions it contains about the connections among these water bodies. The science contained in this report will provide the foundation for the proposed new rule regarding the extent of CWA jurisdiction over wetlands and other waters.