Wisconsin moves to protect wetlands left exposed by Supreme Court ruling
Wisconsin is the first state to move to safeguard isolated wetlands which had been left unprotected by a US Supreme Court ruling in January this year.
The Supreme Court had ruled that the Army Corps of Engineers was acting unlawfully when it prevented a group of 23 local governments from creating a waste dump on a wetland in the Northern Cook County near Chicago (see related story) . Under the Clean Water Act, federal authorities only have jurisdiction over navigable waters, said the Court, but, according to the campaign group Environmental Defence, the ruling put one fifth of the country’s wetlands in jeopardy.
“Though small, these areas are often critical to urban watersheds as they are often the only areas where water can sink in,” said Scott McCallum, Governor of Wisconsin. “Flooding in Milwaukee, Dane County and other communities will increase without these areas.”
The new legislation had been developed by the Governor and state lawmakers, and once finalised, was passed unanimously by both the Senate and Assembly during a special session of the Legislature last week. “I am pleased that lawmakers were able to put their differences aside to pass this very important bill,” said McCallum. “This is proof that all sides can work together to do something great for Wisconsin.” Wisconsin has also received enquiries from the governments of other states regarding the new legislation, a spokesperson for the Governor told edie.
The new bill gives the state’s Department of Natural Resources comprehensive regulatory authority over isolated, intrastate wetlands that became free of federal regulation as a result of the Supreme Court’s ruling.
“Protecting our precious wetlands became a priority from the moment the US Supreme Court ruling came down and I said early on the it would be a priority for my administration,” added McCallum. “Wisconsin’s wetlands are vital for flood control and for keeping our lakes and rivers clean, as well as for protecting fish and wildlife.”
The January Supreme Court Decision also narrowed the areas and activities that the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources protects through its water quality certification, potentially leaving vast portions of the state’s wetlands unprotected from being dredged or filled, including wet meadows, forested wetlands, ephemeral ponds and bogs. This situation which has also been solved by the new bill.