What are Wetlands at Risk?Wetlands-at-risk are those that are vulnerable to impacts from development or other land use activities and that have little protection from these impacts through federal, state or local measures. Many states, tribes, and local governments rely solely on the Clean Water Act to protect their wetland resources. Recent court rulings (see SWANNC and Rapanos) have highlighted potential gaps in this protection, prompting state and local governments to inventory their wetlands that may no longer be considered 'jurisdictional' and try to fill in these gaps. Yet, the reality is that even streams and wetlands that are regulated under the Clean Water Act may be at risk of being filled or otherwise impacted for two key reasons:
- The Clean Water Act Section 404 is a permitting program under which permits for disposal of dredge or fill material into wetlands are issued all the time. Just because a wetland is regulated under this program does not mean it can never be filled.
- The Section 404 program does not regulate all types of activities, such as discharges of stormwater runoff into wetlands, and removal of wetland vegetation.
Given this, in many rapidly developing areas of the country, almost all wetlands can be considered at-risk unless some kind of permanent protective measure (e.g., a conservation easement, protective zoning) is in place to prevent their destruction.