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Water for Colorado Coalition condemns Supreme Court Decision that Strips Wetlands of Critical Protections, Guts Clean Water Act

Jun 06, 2023

Denver — The Water for Colorado Coalition is deeply disappointed by the decision handed down May 25th by the Supreme Court on Sackett vs. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which strips over half of America’s wetlands of critical Clean Water Act (CWA) protections and leaves our state’s fragile ecosystems vulnerable to pollution and degradation. 

The decision finds that wetlands are only subject to regulation by the EPA if they have “continuous surface connection” to “streams, oceans, rivers, and lakes,” and are “indistinguishable” from these bodies of water. The ruling also appears to eliminate federal protections for streams without a relatively permanent flow — 68% of Colorado’s streams. This eliminates CWA protections for wetlands and ephemeral headwater streams, which have played an important role keeping  drinking water safe and protecting fish and wildlife habitat for half a century. The Water for Colorado Coalition offered the following statement in response: 

“The Supreme Court’s decision in Sackett v. EPA topples critical Clean Water Act protections. The decision leaves most of our wetlands unprotected from development activities that cause pollution and water quality degradation. It threatens critical resources that provide wildfire mitigation, flood management, natural water storage, and other essential benefits for Colorado’s ranchers, farmers, communities, and wildlife. Colorado, as a semi-arid state, is disproportionately impacted by the Supreme Court’s ruling because the vast majority of the state’s wetlands and streams are not perennial, and therefore just lost federal protection. 

“Although this most recent decision is a poignant reminder of the fragility of our waterways, it isn’t the first time wetlands and smaller waterways have had protections removed. CWA protections were temporarily rolled back in 2020 due to the previous administration’s ‘Navigable Waters Protection’ (NWP) Rule, subjecting 25,000 miles of Colorado streams and rivers to construction impacts and pollution — again based on flawed logic that failed to account for the varying nature of wetlands. The NWP was overturned and replaced with the Biden Administration’s significantly more protective rule, but this rule will now need to be rewritten in light of the Court’s recent opinion. Therefore, we’re once again staring down irrevocable harm to our rivers and streams, and the overarching weakening of what’s been a critical piece of environmental protection for over 50 years. 

“There is a remedy at hand. Colorado’s waterways can avoid federal administrative whims and fluctuating interpretations. Governor Polis and the Colorado General Assembly must  take action to protect our streams and wetlands above and beyond the increasingly weak standards of the federal government. Failure to act risks irrevocable damage to the streams, rivers, and wetlands that support a $19 billion recreation economy, secure clean water for our communities and farms, and form the very lifeblood of Colorado. 

“Our reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision must go beyond disappointment; it must become action.”

Water for Colorado has experts available to discuss the ramifications of this decision and the importance of securing protections for our wetlands, rivers, and streams.

Contact: Ayla Besemer, [email protected] 

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