Since the U.S. Supreme Court has sided with private property owners in a battle of over wetland protections and the Clean Water Act, West Virginia environmental groups are concerned about further rollbacks to federal clean-water protections.
Angie Rosser, executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, explained wetlands are natural water filters, and important for reducing flooding impacts. She said she is troubled by the Supreme Court’s decision and how it could potentially be applied to the state’s headwater streams.
“West Virginia is a network of valuable and very sensitive headwater streams that feed our bigger rivers and our drinking water supplies for millions of people,” Rosser emphasized.
The Clean Water Act is the law preventing contamination of navigable waters. The high court last week ruled the law extends only to wetlands with a “continuous surface connection” to a navigable body of water.
Alex Funk, director of water resources and senior counsel for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, said the ruling essentially green-lights wetland areas for developers and other uses that will likely have far-reaching impacts.
“If anything, this is going to put major setbacks on things like our ability to adapt to climate change, respond to extreme weather events, drought,” Funk contended. “And so, I think we’re still thinking through the next steps.”
Funk added states could step up to strengthen protections for their own waterways in the aftermath of the case.
“What we’ll likely see is also a lot of states potentially picking up legislation or other actions to potentially mitigate some of the losses,” Funk projected. “A lot of states have broader definitions of state waters.”
Research estimates more than 40% of the nation’s wetlands have disappeared over the last several centuries.