New EPA Rule Places Kansas Streams and Wetlands at Risk

Baker Wetlands at Sunset, wooden walkway in marsh with yellow/green grasses
Baker Wetlands/Baker University

By Elaine Giessel, Kansas Chapter Chair

Last week the Environmental Protection Agency revised its definition of Waters of the US to conform to the Supreme Court ruling in Sackett v. EPA. The new rule abandons the significant nexus test for identifying which tributaries and other waters are protected under the Clean Water Act, putting isolated wetlands and seasonal/ephemeral headwater streams at risk in Kansas. Revised Definition of Waters of the United States rule.

Sierra Club was swift to react.

“Following the Supreme Court's polluter-friendly decision in Sackett v. EPA, this surprise rulemaking and complete lack of opportunity for public participation has made it clear that when it comes to defining the scope of jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act, EPA believes its hands are fully tied. These actions, while unfortunate, only underscore the critical need for Congress to step up and protect the streams and wetlands that provide clean drinking water and additional resources for millions of Americans." Peter Morgan, senior attorney with the Sierra Club's Environmental Law Program

All Americans should have access to clean and affordable water. The Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act were passed with the goal of keeping our nation’s waters fishable, swimmable, and drinkable.

Agricultural runoff is the leading cause of water pollution in the U.S. Half our rivers and streams across the country are already too polluted to fish or swim in. The “significant nexus” standard removed in the EPA’s latest guidelines allowed flexibility in identifying sources of pollution that could degrade downstream waterways.

Healthy wetlands, tributaries and headwater streams help prevent downstream flooding, reduce pollution, recharge groundwater, provide critical wildlife habitat, and offer opportunity for public recreation.

Under EPA’s recently revised rule, Kansas stands to lose protection under the Clean Water Act for hundreds of miles of streams and many of its remaining interior wetlands. We simply cannot afford pollution of our drinking water sources or risk destruction of our remaining prairie wetlands, which provide homes for wildlife and help replenish the Ogallala Aquifer upon which western growers depend.