Our state’s network of rivers and streams originates from a myriad of small streams and wetlands. Wetlands in particular exert critical influences on the character and quality of downstream waters. The natural processes that occur in such systems benefit humans by mitigating flooding, maintaining water quality and quantity, recycling nutrients, and providing habitat for plants and animals.
Because small streams and wetlands are the source of our waterways, changes that degrade these systems affect streams, lakes, and rivers downstream. Land-use changes in the vicinity of wetlands can impair the natural functions of such headwater systems. Changes in surrounding vegetation, development that paves and hardens soil surfaces, and the total elimination of wetlands reduces the amount of rainwater, runoff, and snowmelt the stream network can absorb before flooding.
Historically, federal agencies, in their regulations, have interpreted the protections of the Clean Water Act to broadly cover waters of the United States, including many small streams and wetlands. Despite this, many of these ecosystems have been destroyed by agriculture, mining, development, and other human activities. Since 2001, court rulings and administrative actions have called into question the extent to which small streams and wetlands remain under the protection of the Clean Water Act. Federal agencies, Congress, and the Supreme Court have all weighed in on this issue.
How are we working on this issue at Mass Rivers? We work to ensure adequate regulatory protections for our wetlands and have opposed several federal policy proposals to roll back protections for these critical natural resources. We also advocate for state funding for wetland restoration that ensures our wetlands are adequately protected.