Today the State Board voted unanimously to adopt a final State Wetland Definition and Procedures for Discharges of Dredged or Fill Material to Waters of the State (“wetlands policy”). This policy provides a uniform statewide definition of what is a state wetland and rules for regulating the destruction (i.e., dredge and fill) of these important areas.
Kim Delfino, California program director for Defenders of Wildlife, issued this statement:
“In light of the threat of federal rollbacks in protections for these fragile and valuable lands, Defenders of Wildlife is pleased to see the State Board adopt a statewide wetlands protection policy that will put California back on track to meet its ‘no net loss’ of wetlands goal. As the Central Valley vernal pools start to bloom this year, this means that these fragile lands along with many other unique types of wetlands will enjoy stronger protection from destruction and conversion. These protections will benefit migratory birds and many threatened and endangered fish, wildlife and plants.
“Defenders of Wildlife urges the State Board to continue its work to protect California’s wetlands by moving forward with subsequent phases of its workplan that are intended to protect wetlands from other activities and protect riparian areas.”
California has lost more than 90% of its historic wetlands. The Central Valley originally had more than 4 million acres of wetlands. Today, there are just more than 205,000 acres of wetlands that remain in the Valley. These areas provide important functions, including flood control, improving water quality and water supply, recreation and habitat for imperiled species.
California has acknowledged the importance of its wetlands when Governor Pete Wilson signed an executive order in 1993 declaring California’s policy of no-net-loss of wetlands. Unfortunately, since that time, state regulations and procedures have proved to be inadequate and California is losing more wetland acres each year.
After the U.S. Supreme Court limited the definition of wetlands under the federal Clean Water Act, CalEPA Secretary Terry Tamminen directed the State Water Resources Control Board (“State Board”) to develop a state wetlands policy. The need for the State Board to adopt this policy is more important than ever. Under President Trump’s new proposed rule regarding the jurisdictional reach of the Clean Water Act, waterways critical for California’s water quality and wildlife (e.g., ephemeral headwater streams, desert playas, coastal mudflats, and vernal pools) are likely to be stripped of federal protections.