Assembly Passes Wetland Bill!
By Lee Chowaniec
Feb 11, 2006, 11:24

In January, Riverkeeper launched an online petition to demonstrate widespread, grassroots support for the Clean Water Protection/Flood Prevention Act (A.2048/S.2081). On February 2, 2006 the State Assembly quickly passed the bill for the third year in a row!

What’s Wrong in the Senate?

This wetland bill has passed from the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee with almost unanimous recommendation for the last two years (in 2005, it received an 11 to 1 favorable vote). Nonetheless, this popular bill has never been scheduled for a full Senate vote and floor hearing. Why? Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno says the issue “lacks consensus.” They are confident that the bill has enough support to pass if a vote was allowed.

The proposed New York Wetlands Bill would achieve this goal by, among other things:

* It would lower the jurisdictional threshold from 12.4 to one acre. Wetlands under one acre that are adjacent to other waterbodies, or of significant local importance would also be regulated.

* Change the basis for jurisdiction from whether a wetlands is mapped to whether the land at issue meets the scientific criteria for wetland designation.

* Eliminate the current classification system in Environmental Conservation Law Section 24-1305, which undervalues riverine and forested wetlands, the primary wetland type in many parts of the State.

* Change the use of wetlands maps so that they are used to educate the public about the location of wetlands rather than for regulatory purpose.

* Streamline the mapping process so that maps would more accurately reflect the actual presence of wetlands throughout the State.

* Ensure that citizens and municipalities have input in the development of wetland maps.

Show the Senate You Want Action!

Next Tuesday, February 14, Riverkeeper will join our coalition members for a day of wetland lobbying in Albany. If you have not already done so, please sign our online petition supporting the Clean Water Protection/Flood Prevention Act:

The Clean Water Protection/Flood Prevention Act contains many important amendments that strengthen New York’s freshwater wetland protection law. In most circumstances, wetlands smaller than 12.4 acres are not protected by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). This bill would allow the DEC to regulate activities impacting wetlands that are one acre or larger. It is important to note that extending the state wetlands law merely makes up for the loss of federal protection; it does not add new protections.

The bill changes the function of the state wetlands map from jurisdictional to educational to ensure that wetland status is based on scientific criteria instead of presence on the map. The bill also ensures that property buyers would be given any DEC issued permits with the deed for the property to inform the owner if any structures on their property were constructed in wetlands.

Protection of wetlands is an important issue for New York’s environment and future. Wetlands help to protect drinking water, prevent flooding, and provide habitat for wildlife. Wetlands filter out contaminates, which harm our streams, lakes and rivers. Wetlands are vital to areas that rely on surface water supplies for drinking water. Since 1780, New York State has lost half our wetlands according to an analysis conducted by the US Fish and Wildlife Service pursuant to 1998 amendments to the Emergency Wetlands Resources Act of 1986.

Flooding has become a problem for homes that were constructed on filled wetlands or near filled wetlands. Many New Yorkers have suffered from flooding and even structural damage to their homes. A few weeks ago we saw some of the worst flooding in the state in the last 50 years. A study by the Illinois State Water Survey found that every one percent increase in watershed area covered by wetlands decreased flood peaks streams draining the watershed by nearly four percent. An acre of wetlands can store up to 1.5 million gallons of stormwater.

Protecting our citizens is our highest priority, and we feel that wetland protection helps us to do this. The Clean Water Protection/Flood Prevention Act helps protect our citizens’ clean drinking water, homes, and environment. To protect our citizens New York must expand the jurisdiction of its wetland protection law.

Wetlands are disappearing at an alarming rate. The increase of impervious service is causing huge damage to our roadways and environment. Wetlands help slow down the flow of water to downstream areas and provide a vital area for wildlife to retreat to with the increase of suburban sprawl.

Ponds, lakes and rivers need wetlands to provide a place for feeding of migratory birds and nesting for turtles and other amphibians that are critical to the health of ponds, lakes and rivers.

Houses built on wetlands cause problems for the homeowners too. These houses end up with unstable foundations, flooding problems and health issues to families from developing mold due to moist areas. The adjacent property owners end up with backyards and basements flooded. Water will find another place to go if you take the wetlands away. Unfortunately, the place water goes is to places where it becomes destructive.

Save our wetlands, protect current property homeowners and municipalities from the pressure of developers to build on these fragile environments. Please protect wetlands. Developers are finding distressed properties that were never built on by those 100 years ago. Without the law, the developers are threatening lawsuits of small municipalities that can't afford to defend themselves. Please Pass the Clean Water/Flood Prevention Act.

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