On April 21, 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of the Army published the Navigable Waters Protection Rule in the Federal Register to finalize a revised definition of “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act (“Federal Rule”). The new Federal Rule became effective on June 22, 2020. As a result of the new Federal Rule, a subset of wetlands classified under North Carolina State law are no longer subject to federal Clean Water Act jurisdiction. This includes 62.9% of wetlands in the Piedmont.
To remedy this, NC Department of Water Resources and the Environmental Management Commission approved temporary rules to cover that gap. On Thursday night, a hearing was held to establish permanent wetland rules to protect these wetlands when the temporary rule expires. Though these rules are a much needed protection and require permitting and mitigation for any disturbance of wetlands over 1/10th of an acre, there are still areas for improvement. In the Haw River watershed and the Piedmont region, many wetlands are under 0.1 acre due to the geography and incised streams. As development pressure increases, these small wetlands will not be protected. Wetlands are subject to a “death of 1000 cuts,” and their essential ecosystem services of flood control, nutrient and turbidity uptake, and critical habitat will be lost if they are not protected. We support the proposed permanent wetland rules, which allow for a thorough permitting process to better protect jurisdictional wetlands. However, we have urged the commission to consider increasing the mitigation and permitting thresholds to ensure that manufactured wetlands serve equal function in sensitive watersheds, and small wetlands are protected in high quality waters, impaired waterways, and areas of critical habitat. Written comments on the proposal can be submitted by December 1st. Link to public notice and resources here.
Talking points can be found here.
Our comment letter can be found here.