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Proposed Rule Would Close Gap in FL Water Protection

PHOTO: Wetland areas around Florida, such as cypress domes in the Florida Everglades, will see greater protection if the rules are put in place. Courtesy: Miguel Leyva
PHOTO: Wetland areas around Florida, such as cypress domes in the Florida Everglades, will see greater protection if the rules are put in place. Courtesy: Miguel Leyva
March 27, 2014

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – For more than a decade, 20 million wetland acres and 2 million miles of streams – including many in Florida – 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, which will be helpful to Florida wetlands, streams and freshwater springs, according to Jan Goldman-Carter, senior manager of wetlands and water resources for the National Wildlife Federation.

"There will be no question that those waters are covered by the Clean Water Act,” she said. “And that in turn helps bolster the state-level protections for those waters, because the federal and state protections for water quality are closely intertwined."

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.

Manley Fuller, president and CEO of the Florida Wildlife Federation, said 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 freshwater wetlands.

"Wetlands are extremely important to fish and wildlife and outdoor recreation,” he stressed. “So we think that this rule, when implemented, will help clarify what is a wetland and what is not a wetland."

There are more than 50,000 miles of rivers and streams in Florida, in addition to many high-quality springs that circulate millions of gallons of pure water daily.

According to the Outdoor Industry Association, outdoor recreation generates $38 billion annually and more than half of the state's residents participate in some outdoor activity each year.



Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - FL