The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and ShoreRivers plan to sue the Trump administration for repealing the Obama-era Clean Water Rule, which provided robust protections for wetlands and seasonal streams under the Clean Water Act, and replacing it with the dangerously weaker version published in the Federal Register today.
The new definition of Waters of the United States (WOTUS) ignores the scientific underpinnings of the 2015 Clean Water Rule and jettisons vital protections for wetlands and streams across the Bay’s 64,000 square-mile watershed. It will do the most damage in Delaware, the District of Columbia, and West Virginia, which rely entirely on federal law to protect their local waters. In Delaware alone, it would allow the destruction of nearly 200,000 acres of wetlands.
The new WOTUS rule will also be harmful in Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, and Virginia, despite those states’ additional state water protection programs, because their programs all have gaps the new rule will exacerbate. In Maryland, nontidal wetlands could lose protections, as could Pennsylvania streams that flow only in response to precipitation, known as seasonal streams. Thousands of Delmarva Bays, wetlands unique to the Delmarva Peninsula, are directly at risk as well.
As natural filters, wetlands play a crucial role helping the six watershed states and the District meet their targets for reducing nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution entering the Bay and its tributaries by the 2025 deadline set by the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.
Wetlands soak up excess water from the more frequent and intense storms and floods caused by climate change, which regularly batter the watershed’s farms, low-lying coastal communities, and rapidly disappearing Bay islands. Wetlands also protect and recharge drinking water supplies.
By providing irreplaceable habitat for fish, native wildlife, and migratory birds, wetlands support the region’s $65 billion outdoor recreation industry and the more than half a million jobs it provides.
In response to publication of the new WOTUS rule, Jon Mueller, CBF’s Vice President of Litigation, said:
“The Trump administration’s new WOTUS rule is an astounding attack on the Clean Water Act and another egregious example of its destructive disregard for science. By slashing the number of waterways in the watershed protected from pollution under the Clean Water Act, this damaging rule puts the entire cleanup effort in jeopardy.
“Wetlands are vital to the health and resilience of the Chesapeake Bay and the 111,000 miles of local creeks, streams, and rivers from Cooperstown, NY, to Virginia Beach that feed into it. They are also critical to the region’s $65 billion outdoor recreation industry and the more than half a million jobs it supports.
“The stakes are too high to allow this dangerous rule to stand. CBF has worked tirelessly for years to protect the Clean Water Rule and prevent a weaker version from replacing it. We will be just as relentless as we take our fight to protect the Clean Water Act and the watershed’s wetlands to court.”
Jeff Horstman, Executive Director of ShoreRivers, said:
“Vast areas of streams and wetlands on the Delmarva will lose vital protections if this irresponsible regulatory roll back is permitted. By repealing the Clean Water Rule, the current administration is allowing more pollution to enter our iconic rivers and Bay, which are beginning to show signs of improvement after decades of work. We cannot allow this progress to be reversed, we must stand up for science and challenge this assault on our right to have clean water.
“It is a fact that polluted rivers will cost us more in the end than any short-term economic gain garnered from allowing industries to pollute. We must stop the cycle of allowing short term economic interests and corporate greed to destroy our natural resources.”
For more than half a century, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has led a landmark effort to save the Chesapeake Bay—a national treasure on which the health and wellbeing of nearly 20 million people and 3,600 species of plants and animals depend. Grounded in science and focused on local waterways, we educate tens of thousands of people each year, advocate for better public policy, hold governments and polluters accountable, and perform essential hands-on restoration.
ShoreRivers protects and restores Maryland’s Eastern Shore waterways through science-based advocacy, restoration, and education. Our Riverkeepers monitor water quality, advocate for clean water laws, and work with local governments to enforce existing laws. Our Education team provides critical environmental programming to public school students and teachers across four counties. And our Agriculture & Restoration team specializes in implementing innovative, effective practices that improve both environmental health and farm productivity. Through all our programs, ShoreRivers works across the Delmarva to increase awareness of pollution problems and to inspire action to achieve healthy waterways.