Report: Five Case Studies on the Effects of the SWANCC and Rapanos Supreme Court Rulings on Colorado Wetlands and Streams

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While national politicians argue and do nothing about the recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings that have muddied enforcement of the Clean Water Act, Trout Unlimited, Ducks Unlimited and the National Wildlife Federation have been doing the science around the issue(s) here in Colorado. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

“These are islands of moisture,” said Dennis Buechler, author of the report released Tuesday (pdf) by the National Wildlife Federation, Ducks Unlimited and Trout Unlimited. The wetlands are important to wildlife. While covering less than 2 percent of the land, they are home to 75 percent of the state’s wildlife species. “A lot of these little streams are ephemeral (flowing intermittently) and off the radar. I like to call them the Rodney Dangerfields of the aquatic world. They don’t get enough respect.”

Buechler, a former U.S. Fish and Wildlife employee who now is a wetlands consultant, looked at five types of wetlands in the South Platte watershed to see how regulatory confusion has set back preservation. The Corps has authority over projects on streams, rivers and lakes in the United States under Section 404 of the 1972 Clean Water Act.

Conflicting U.S. Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 cases have led to regulatory confusion. “The result was the effective removal of regulatory oversight and protection of the fish and wildlife habitat and other important functions on 20 million acres of so-called geographically isolated wetlands in the lower 48 states,” Buechler wrote in the report. Under one interpretation, the Corps has jurisdiction only in “navigable waters” or tributaries. That leaves fens (mountain bogs), playas (shallow basins) and intermittent streams at risk, Buechler said.

The groups support federal legislation, S.787, which was introduced last year to clarify the Corps role in enforcing the Clean Water Act, said Jim Murphy of the National Wildlife Federation. The bill, as introduced, would give the Corps permit authority over habitats like those of concern to the wildlife groups…

Buechler looked at fens near Fairplay, a lake in a residential development in Westminster, a playa wetland in Washington County, a dry creek subject to flooding near Broomfield and a creek with urban and industrial encroachment near Aurora…

“We all live downstream. Watersheds are connected systems, and if degradation of wetlands and discharge of pollutants and fill material are allowed in headwater areas, those impacts will over time migrate downstream to mainstream reaches and effect drinking water as well as fish and wildlife habitat,” Buechler wrote in the report.

More S.787 coverage here and here.

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