Association of State Wetland Managers - Protecting the Nation's Wetlands.

The Compleat Wetlander: Five Stories to Follow in 2016

By Jeanne Christie

This month’s issue of the Association of State Wetland Manager’s monthly e-zine – Wetland Breaking News – included a story on “Top Trends Conservationists Should be Paying Attention to but Aren’t”.  It’s an intriguing list and there are also links to other interesting stories on the web pages of Ensia, a magazine that identifies environmental solutions in action.

It inspired me to reflect on the coming year because there are also important stories impacting wetlands that will unfold in 2016.  Here are five likely to make (and in some cases continue to make) the headlines and to be important for wetland professionals to follow:

  1. Clean Water Rule – The question that looms large for the Clean Water Rule is whether and when, and in what form or forms it will be implemented.  Last week President Obama vetoed a bill to prohibit implementation of the Clean Water Rule and the Senate failed to override the veto.  There is currently a stay on implementing the rule while the Sixth District Court of Appeals considers further action.  If it does (and this seems likely) the stay will likely remain in place until after the court hears the case and reaches a decision.  If the Sixth Circuit does not take the case, lawsuits filed in both District Courts and other Appeal courts nationwide will move ahead.
  2. Lead Contamination of Flint Michigan Drinking Water System – The tragic story of the lead contaminated drinking water in Flint, Michigan continues amid questions about decisions that were made leading up to the recognition that there was a serious health problem.  There is also emerging concern that similar problems could occur elsewhere in the U.S.  And this is only part of the challenge for the nation’s water system.  When drinking water out of the tap flows into the sink, it becomes part of the wastewater system.  A survey by EPA shows an estimated $271 Billion is needed to maintain and improve the nation’s wastewater infrastructure. Additional information on the nation’s wastewater needs is available here.  The Nation has been falling behind for years in responding to the need to address the water infrastructure needs of towns and cities.  The price tag continues to grow.
  3. nationalwetlandcondition12816The National Wetland Conditions Assessment – In the coming weeks the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will release the final version of first ever report on the health of the Nation’s wetlands. The draft report was published in the Federal Register late in 2015.  The report will estimate the distribution of wetlands in  “good”, “fair”, or “poor” condition nationwide and regionally.  The report is one of a series of surveys on the condition of the Nation’s waters carried out under the National Aquatic Resource Surveys program.
  4. Reissuance of Nationwide Permits – The current Section 404 Nationwide Permits General Permits will expire on March 19, 2017. Rulemaking for reissuance of the nationwide permits is expected to begin with the publication of a proposed rule early in 2016.  The great majority of actions permitted under Section 404 are carried out under general permits: an average of 53,000 general permits versus 3,600 individual permits per year from 2010 to 2014. See page 45.  The rulemaking and public comment process provides the opportunity for responding with thoughtful comments on the proposed nationwides to ensure that the actions carried out will not have cumulative negative impacts on aquatic resources. In addition the states and some tribes certify under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act that the nationwide permits are in compliance with state/tribal water quality standards and other applicable requirements.  The certification process does not take place until the final rule is published so it will be important for the final rule to be issued at the beginning of 2017.individualpermits12816
  5. Corps of Engineers V. Hawkes before the U.S. Supreme Court  A case that will be heard before the Supreme Court this year will determine whether federal courts will be able to review Clean Water Act Jurisdictional Determinations.  In December the questionspresente12816Supreme Court determined it would hear the case.  Currently when a permit for dredge and fill under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act occurs, an applicant must apply for a permit for those waters the Corps determines are subject to Clean Water Act jurisdiction or proceed without a permit and risk legal action.  The ruling in this case will determine if there is a third option: challenging the Corps’ jurisdictional determination in court.

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