Supreme Court Decision Threatens Waterways that Birds (and People) Need

A Supreme Court decision could have major impacts on how waterways are protected in Florida.

In a May ruling, the United States Supreme Court curtailed the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency and the United States Army Corps of Engineers to regulate the “Waters of the United States.” While the Clean Water Act includes regulatory definitions for most large bodies of water and rivers, smaller waterways which may be seasonal or disconnected are not as clearly defined. This ruling limits the ability of the agencies to permit activities on many of these smaller waterways and means that unregulated development can occur in many of these areas.

With the loss of three billion birds in the past 50 years—in part due to dwindling wetlands and significant development of natural spaces—and Audubon science showing that two-thirds of North American bird species are at risk of extinction from climate change, action is needed to protect the water bodies and habitat that birds need to survive. Waters around the nation, such as seasonal streams and isolated wetlands, serve as essential habitat for birds and other wildlife. These water bodies provide crucial sources of drinking water, food, and nutrition for birds. Birds also use lakes, streams, and wetlands for breeding and nesting, as well as for rest stops during long migratory journeys.

Wetlands and seasonal streams provide more than just critical bird habitat—they also serve people as nature’s filters to clean our drinking water and protect us from storms, floods, 
and other climatic stressors. Too many low-income communities, Tribal communities, and communities of color do not have consistent access to safe, affordable drinking water and strong protections under the Clean Water Act are needed to support these communities.

This article appeared in the Summer 2023 Naturalist. Read the full magazine here.

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