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What the Supreme Court Ruling on Clean Water Means for Minnesota
Minnesota Ag Connection - 05/30/2023

On May 25, the Supreme Court issued a ruling in Sackett v. EPA that reduced the scope of the Clean Water Act and limited federal protections to wetlands directly adjacent to other bodies of water. Justice Alito wrote that “wetlands that are separate from traditional navigable waters cannot be considered part of those waters, even if they are located nearby." While Minnesota has its own laws protecting wetlands, the ruling has implications for water quality, wildlife and ecosystems across the country.

College of Biological Sciences Professors Jacques Finlay and Susan Galatowitsch are available to comment on what the decision means for Minnesota and beyond.

Jacques Finlay, Ph.D.

“There is no defensible scientific rationale to support Justice Alito’s position. An interpretation of the law that separates protection on the basis of “continuous surface connection” has no ecological basis. Water is in constant motion, and much of the volume of a body of “navigable water” comes from places that are separate and even distant from it. The science is clear – water quality protection must occur throughout watersheds to be effective. There is overwhelming consensus that wetlands contribute to clean water even if they are located far from a large water body.”

“Wetlands are very effective at removing many pollutants from water – either degrading them or immobilizing them for long periods within sediments. They are critical to reducing non-point pollution, such as agricultural runoff and urban stormwater, which is difficult and expensive to treat in other ways. Any interference such as filling, ditching, draining or outright destruction of wetlands will adversely affect these functions, leading to reduced ground and surface water quality.”

“In Minnesota, there are many opportunities to speak up and get involved to protect wetlands, as occurred recently when farmers near Marshall, Minnesota noticed that a wetland had been accidentally damaged. Following this Supreme Court ruling, citizen involvement and advocacy is more important than ever.”

Susan Galatowitsch, Ph.D.

“Using the particular circumstances of a single residential home site in Idaho, the Supreme Court decided to make sweeping changes to the scope of “water” protected under the Clean Water Act. To the majority, only water that they can see as clearly continuous within a river, lake or ocean now qualifies. They dismissed established knowledge about how water moves through watersheds and the importance of wetlands that, to a casual observer, may appear isolated or not wet. Consequently, this ruling sets the stage for staggering wetland losses across the US that will create new flooding risks, impair water quality and diminish aquatic life.”

Source: umn.edu

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