More than 7.7 million acres in Georgia are wetlands, and groups aware of their value to the environment are worried the watery acreage might be in jeopardy after a new U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
The high court ruled 5-4 federal Clean Water Act protections do not apply to wetlands unless they are connected year-round to a navigable body of water.
Conservation and sportsmen’s groups countered this puts up to 80% of U.S. wetlands at risk of more pollution and development.
Sam Sankar, senior vice president of programs for EarthJustice, predicted the decision will have far-reaching consequences.
“If you’re not protecting wetlands, that means the breeding grounds for fish, the feeding areas for birds, all of these things are losing protections,” Sankar outlined. “And that threatens the ecosystems that we all depend on; in particular, people who are drawing their livelihoods from water.”
Supporters of the decision called it a victory for private-property rights. The Environmental Protection Agency was sued by an Idaho couple who had been prevented from building on their land due to the presence of wetlands.
Wetlands are important for biodiversity and helping to fight climate change. They stabilize coastlines and protect against extreme weather events, according to the Global Center on Adaptation.
Sankur warned such benefits may now be at risk.
“Wetlands are critical for maintaining surface water supply as well,” Sankur explained. “In periods of flooding — which are becoming ever more common with climate change — and similarly with drought, which is also becoming much more common with climate change, wetlands provide critical reservoirs of water and critical absorption of waters in those times.”
Sankar added EarthJustice is among the groups asking Congress to use its power to negate the ruling. Some states also have said they’ll enforce their own, state-level protections.
This story was written by Shanteya Hudson, a producer at Public News Service, where this story first appeared.