Commentary: Wetlands and waterways restoration bill must be passed

This editorial appeared in The Hilton Head Island Packet.

Critical federal protection for isolated freshwater wetlands and small streams and rivers would be restored under a bill now before the U.S. Senate.

We urge Congress to pass a measure that is nearly a decade overdue.

The Clean Water Restoration Act would return the broad protections freshwater wetlands and small waterways enjoyed for nearly 30 years under the 1972 Clean Water Act.

A 2001 Supreme Court decision, followed by a similar ruling in 2006, limited federal oversight to permanent navigable waters and wetlands connected to those navigable systems.

That eliminated federal protections for about 20 million acres of wetlands that absorb floodwaters, serve as pollution buffers for rivers and streams and provide critical habitat for wildlife.

South Carolina has more than 300,000 acres of freshwater wetlands; more than 16,000 acres are in Beaufort County. Since the 1970s, the most extensive losses of wetland acreage have occurred in six Southern states – Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina. A Clemson University study found that while South Carolina ranks 40th in landmass among states, it ranks in the top 10 in acreage consumed by development.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Hilton Head Island Packet.