Proposed Rule Would Close Some Gaps in CO Water Protection
PHOTO: Headwaters like those of Colorado's St. Vrain River would see greater protection if new rules are put into effect clarifying what is covered by the Clean Water Act. Photo credit: John Gale.
March 28, 2014
NATHROP, Colo. – For more than a decade, 20 million wetland acres and 2 million miles of streams, including many in Colorado, were left unprotected, despite the federal Clean Water Act.
Experts say the gap in coverage was the unintended result of two U.S. Supreme Court decisions.
This week, the Obama administration proposed a new rule to clarify which types of water have Clean Water Act protection.
Bill Dvorak, owner of an outfitting business in Nathrop and a public lands organizer for the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), says the gap in protection is evident in Colorado.
"We've just seen a lot of wetlands lost because it's no longer protected and then, I think one of the other things that we've seen is, there's been a lot of particularly oil and gas development that's been adjacent to a lot of those wetlands," he says.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the rate of wetlands loss accelerated by 140 percent from 2004 to 2009, the years immediately following the Supreme Court rulings.
A public comment period is expected to begin in a few weeks on the proposed rule.
Jan Goldman-Carter, NWF senior manager of wetlands and water resources, says the 2001 and 2006 Supreme Court decisions have confused and limited the scope of the Clean Water Act – making it much more difficult to maintain and restore the state's streams, headwaters and wetlands.
She's says a new rule would change that.
"There will be no question that those waters are covered by the Clean Water Act, and that in turn helps bolster the state-level protections for those waters, because the federal and the state protections for water quality are closely intertwined," she stresses.
The proposal stops short of protecting streams and creeks not directly fed by a tributary, but instead are supplied by rain or snow.
Dvorak says almost 70 percent of Colorado's streams and creeks fit that description and so, could still be vulnerable.
"A lot of times after the snow melts in the spring, later in the summer, a lot of them can dry up,” he explains. “So, it's really important that they're protected, so that they continue to provide that water for those wetlands in the times that they're needed."
Colorado has more than 105,000 miles of river and more than 249,000 acres of lakes.
They're a big part of the state's booming outdoor industry, which contributes more than $13 billion a year to the economy and supports 125,000 jobs.