Indiana has already lost 85 percent of the wetlands it once had a century ago, many drained for farming and development. Now, environmentalists, engineers and residents are concerned that the few wetlands that remain are under threat.
A new bill proposed this legislative session would repeal the state’s wetlands law, stripping protections for many of the wetlands that still exist across Indiana. Those who support Senate Bill 389 say it’s needed to remove red tape for builders and developers.
Wetlands are critical to the landscape, according to experts. They help absorb water and prevent flooding, they recharge groundwater resources — which provide a majority of Indiana’s drinking water — and they filter water as it soaks into the ground.
The Clean Water Act protected many of Indiana’s wetlands until last year, when changes by the Trump administration left as much as half of them without federal cover.
When the Act was substantially expanded in 1972, Congress did not clearly define what counted as “waters of the United States,” said David Konisky, a professor in Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs.
Under the Obama administration, the EPA ruled wetlands, small streams and other water bodies should be included in the Clean Water Act — overall, encompassing about 60 percent of the nation’s water bodies. Agricultural, oil, and development leaders called it a massive overstep of federal power.
The Trump administration reversed this Obama-era rule last year.
“What it actually does in practice is say we’re taking a lot of wetlands out of federal Clean Water Act jurisdiction, and we’re going to instead leave it to the states to determine if they want to protect those resources,” Konisky said. “So, because the new regulation from the Trump administration covers so much less, there are a lot more wetlands out there being left to states to figure out what to do with.”