Wetland Protection

Wetland ecosystems are essential to our water quality, water supply, storm resilience, quality of life – and they support a diversity of plants and animals!
Update: January 14, 2021

Earthjustice files suit on behalf of Conservancy of Southwest Florida and our partners to protect wetlands throughout Florida. The complaint was filed January 14, 2021 in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida has been working to protect our wetlands for over 50 years. Our mission was seeded in 1964 when we worked to stop a proposal that would have destroyed Rookery Bay.

Today, we face continued threats, as Florida is now the third most populous state in the union. Southwest Florida is experiencing much of that growth directly, and is a hotspot of wetland loss in the nation.

Why It Matters

  • Wetlands are ‘nature’s kidneys’ – naturally cleansing our water
  • Wetlands store rainwater (over 1 million gallons of water per acre!) and reduce flooding in urban areas
  • Wetlands help recharge our aquifers – where 90 percent of Floridians get their drinking water
  • Maintaining intact wetland ecosystems is one of the foundations for our economy. About 1.4 million jobs are supported by tourism in Florida, and loss in water quantity and quality can negatively impact the state’s economy.
  • During Hurricane Irma, natural wetlands provided critical storage for heavy rainfall, and mangrove forests took the brunt of the winds and storm surge.

Why It Matters

Typically development proposals are reviewed and permitted by local, state, and federal levels. With assumption, the federal agency review would largely be removed.

On August 20, 2020, Florida asked the US Environmental Protection Agency to assume the Clean Water Act 404 “dredge and fill” permitting program. This would mean that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection would take over the central federal role in permitting destructive wetland development projects.

Such a transfer will fast-track and expedite development of Florida’s most treasured landscapes.

Removing the federal agency from the process means removing protective laws from consideration. It removes the checks and balances we need in overseeing requests for new developments, new roadways, and new mines.

Though the Army Corps of Engineers - which is the major federal entity currently responsible for wetland permits - certainly does not have a perfect record in denying bad projects, the federal players have produced more positive outcomes than the state agencies.

For example:

  • In 2011, the FDEP permitted nearly 10,000 acres of new mining impacts in Lee and Collier counties. At the same time, the Army Corps announced that a full investigation of these impacts was necessary due to impacts to sensitive lands, wildlife habitat, and groundwater supplies. As a result, these mine applications were withdrawn or greatly reduced their proposed impacts.
  • In 2002 the state of Florida permitted a large, manmade drainage ditch as part of a proposed residential development within the Cocohatchee wetland system, which hydrates the Audubon Corkscrew Sanctuary, home to endangered Florida panthers and wood storks. However, the Corps denied the project, citing inappropriate impacts to wetlands. While the project was ultimately litigated and constructed, action taken by the Corps resulted in a much improved project and better result for the environment and for Corkscrew.

Further, Florida has neither the expertise nor the workload capacity to take on the federal responsibilities. This restricted capacity will impact the robustness of review that projects receive.

interested in learning more? dive deep into the documents and resources on this topic and others by heading to the Policy Resource Center!