As new EPA rule redefines protected waterways, some fear Lowcountry impacts

Updated: Jan. 25, 2020 at 11:46 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Attorneys and environmental groups say a new federal rule could change water-quality protections for certain wetlands and tributaries across the Lowcountry.

This week, the United States Environmental Protection Agency announced the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, which redefines federally protected waterways across the country.

The rule protects "adjacent wetlands" that touch other bodies of water such as lakes, ponds and seas.

But Andrew Wunderley with local environmental group Charleston Waterkeeper said the action puts more isolated wetland areas and smaller tributaries in South Carolina in jeopardy.

"It's going to strip away longstanding federal protections for those head water wetland systems that protect downstream water quality," Wunderley said. "We're fortunate that we have an intact and functioning estuary system and we need to do everything we can to protect it."

Charleston-based attorney Chris DeScherer said the Southern Environmental Law Center plans to take legal action against the decision. DeScherer said the national rule could impact the Charleston area.

"The wetlands scattered throughout our landscape, they catch and store floodwater," DeScherer said. "So by eliminating protections for wetlands, we're going to exacerbate flooding conditions in the community like Charleston."

But not everyone is against this decision. The U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue released a statement saying in part that the new rule empowers Americans by "removing undue burdens and strangling regulations from the backs of our productive farmers, ranchers, and rural land-owners."

For decades, Chris Crolley, owner of Coastal Expeditions has studied Charleston’s coastal wetland systems. He said the new rule is an opportunity for people to have a broader discussion about protecting clean water on a national scale.

“If you understand the water cycle, you’ll understand that really, all water is connected,” Crolley said. “Federal thought about the connection of water is important because rivers don’t know boundaries. Rivers don’t abide by property lines.”

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