Washington, D.C. – The Trump Administration’s proposed rollback of federal clean water regulations would undermine the Chesapeake Bay cleanup, in part by eliminating federal protections for at least 34,000 acres of wetlands and some headwater streams, according to a report by the Environmental Integrity Project.
Last month, the EPA released proposed new regulations that would redefine what “Waters of the U.S.” should be protected by the federal Clean Water Act. Under the Trump Administration’s proposal, isolated wetlands not connected by surface waters to navigable waterways in an average year would be stripped of federal protections. This would make them more vulnerable to real estate development or pollution. Also left vulnerable would be streams that flow only after rain or snowmelt, called “ephemeral” streams.
The Environmental Integrity Project’s report, “Undermining Protections for Wetlands and Streams,” uses laser mapping data collected by federal researchers and University of Maryland scientists to show that there are 34,560 acres of scattered wetlands called “Delmarva Potholes” on the Delmarva peninsula that would be stripped of federal protections by the Trump Administration’s proposal.
That acreage is the equivalent of 54 square miles of green that provide vitally important filtration services by keeping farm runoff pollution out of the Chesapeake Bay. That’s a landmass almost the size of Washington, D.C. Delmarva Potholes also serve as a home for wildlife and a defense against flooding.
In the Chesapeake Bay region states, there are also 37,809 miles of intermittent or ephemeral streams – more than half of the total miles of waterways, often at the headwaters of rivers, according to EIP’s report, which is based on EPA figures.
The Trump Administration’s December 11 proposal leaves intermittent streams (meaning streams that flow every spring, for example, but not all year) as a protected category, but removes protections for ephemeral streams (those that flow only after rains or snowfall.) EIP’s report argues that this distinction between intermittent andephemeral streams is likely to sow confusion and leave an unknown number of streams unprotected, even though they should be kept clean as a source of drinking water and as tributaries to the Chesapeake Bay.