In the face of a new federal administration’s decision to roll back clean water protections, New York must step up to protect our precious wetlands. This bill restores New York’s wetland protections by putting wetlands as small as one acre under state regulatory authority — a measure that would make wetland protection more consistent statewide. Furthermore, this measure applies to all wetlands above the one-acre threshold, regardless of whether they appear on the state’s outdated and incomplete map of freshwater wetlands.
Wetlands filter sediment, nutrients and other pollutants from runoff, protecting the quality of the state’s waters and filtering drinking water supplies. Wetlands control storm water, prevent flooding, recharge areas for groundwater, and provide wildlife habitat areas for hunting and bird watching. They filter and purify runoff and are indispensable for the health of other water bodies, including those used for safe drinking water and recreation.
Federal and state laws and regulations to protect wetlands have not kept pace with development, and as a result they are disappearing at an alarming rate: 159 acres of wetlands vanish in the U.S. every day. Federal wetland protections suffered a major blow in 2001 when the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling involving the Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County (SWANCC) that restricted the jurisdiction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to protect these vulnerable resources. This ruling made New York’s wetlands particularly vulnerable, as the state ceded jurisdiction for regulating activities in wetlands of 12.4 acres or smaller to the federal government long ago. As a result, wetlands smaller than 12.4 acres have no protection or oversight in New York.
In response to the 2001 litigation cited above, and other litigation cases, the EPA proposed the Clean Water Rule, which would clarify which waters are protected under the Clean Water Act and provide protections to millions more acres of wetlands. However, a stay issued on the Rule in October 2015 has prevented it from ever being implemented, and the President signed an Executive Order to roll back the Clean Water Rule.
This bill amends New York’s Environmental Conservation Law to provide the Department of Environmental Conservation with regulatory authority over the state’s freshwater wetlands of an acre or more, regardless of whether that wetland had previously been mapped by the agency.