In the face of the federal government’s current efforts to roll back clean water protections, New York must step up to protect our critical wetlands. This bill restores New York’s freshwater wetland protections by including wetlands one acre or greater under state regulatory authority, regardless of whether they appear on the state’s wetlands maps, a measure that would make protections more consistent statewide.
Wetlands provide many benefits to people and the environment. They filter sediment, nutrients and pollutants from runoff, improving water quality and serving as a natural filtration for our drinking water. Wetlands control and slow flood waters and serve as a natural buffer along shorelines, thus strengthening our climate resiliency. They provide important wildlife habitat and spawning and nesting grounds for fish, birds and other species. They also serve as important recreation areas for hunting, boating and bird watching.
Federal and state regulations to protect wetlands have not kept pace with development, and as a result, wetlands are disappearing at an alarming rate. In 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court narrowed the federal government’s ability to protect wetlands in the case of Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACE). At the moment, New York can only regulate activities on wetlands larger than 12.4 acres. This bill will expand NYS Department of Environmental Conservation’s power to conserve smaller, ecologically-critical wetlands.
The federal government is currently moving backwards on wetlands protections. The Trump administration recently announced a rollback of the Obama-era Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, which clarified which waters, including wetlands, are protected under the Clean Water Act. The Trump administration suspended the 2015 WOTUS rule and is currently attempting to replace it with a much weaker definition for jurisdictional waters. It is up to New York to establish the necessary safeguards to protect our wetlands and freshwater resources.
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.