The Science Is in: Small Streams and Wetlands Are Part of the Big-Water Picture

After a review of published science, the EPA has concluded there is a connection between small streams, small isolated wetlands, and larger waters, and that this role is important to the functioning of those wider aquifers and ecosystems.

This is vital information for sportsmen (and the nation overall) because it supports the push by sportsmen’s groups to reestablish protections for 20,000 acres of isolated wetlands and more than 5,000 miles of streams stripped by Supreme Court decisions almost 10 years ago.

Regular readers of this blog are familiar with that tale. The Cliff Notes version: developers and some agriculture groups convinced the court back in 2006 that the Clean Water Act of 1972, which established wetlands as part of the national trust, was never meant to include these types of wetlands. Since these habitats are critical for waterfowl, trout, and other fish and game, sportsmen have tried to have congress pass legislation specifically adding them to the Act. But Big Ag and Big Development had too many friends in Congress to get it done.

The Obama Administration asked the EPA to look at the science and determine if these isolated wetlands were connected to large permanent watercourses—which are covered by the law under the court's ruling. More than 200 sportsmen's groups support this effort.

Congressional opponents have spun all kinds of hyperbole claiming it’s a land grab by the feds, that it will ruin farmers and developers, etc. They have tried to claim the new guidance would protect ditches and mud puddles, and they have ridiculed the draft editions of this research.

But the final report issued last month—Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters: A Review and Synthesis of the Scientific Evidence—doesn't mince words, concluding:

  • The scientific literature unequivocally demonstrates that streams, regardless of their size or frequency of flow, are connected to downstream waters and strongly influence their function.

  • There is ample evidence that many wetlands and open waters located outside of riparian areas and floodplains, even when lacking surface water connections, provide physical, chemical, and biological functions that could affect the integrity of downstream waters. Some potential benefits of these wetlands are due to their isolation rather than their connectivity. Evaluations of the connectivity and effects of individual wetlands or groups of wetlands are possible through case-by-case analysis.

  • Variations in the degree of connectivity are determined by the physical, chemical and biological environment, and by human activities. These variations support a range of stream and wetland functions that affect the integrity and sustainability of downstream waters.

  • The literature strongly supports the conclusion that the incremental contributions of individual streams and wetlands are cumulative across entire watersheds, and their effects on downstream waters should be evaluated within the context of other streams and wetlands in that watershed.

Unfortunately, many members of Congress decided to ignore the science even before it was completed. They have vowed to restrict funding for implementation of the guidance, claiming it's a radical environmental agenda.

Many of these people working against fish, wildlife, and sportsmen represent hunters and anglers. So it’s up to you to contact your congressmen and tell them in no uncertain terms that the science is on your side.