Wetlands Protection Act
A.3658 (Englebright, et al.)/S.5576 (Meyer, et al.)
Wetlands are critical components of ecosystems in the Catskills. They provide habitat and spawning ground for fish, mammals, and migratory birds, and are our first line of defense for floods. They protect shorelines and serve as erosion control. Wetlands are natural water purification systems, keeping our world-class trout streams clear, and are a huge part of the reason that the New York City drinking water is as pristine as it is. Yet wetlands are also seen as ‘swamps’ and are too often undervalued and filled in as development pressures increase.
When wetlands—regardless of their size, large and small—are filled in, all of those ecosystem benefits are lost. Instead of percolating into groundwater and streams, snowmelt and rains run off the hardened ground, taking sediment and pollution with it. Studies by the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service show that an acre of wetland can store more than 1.5 million gallons of floodwater. A study by the Illinois State Water Survey found that destroying just 1% of a watershed’s wetlands increases total flood potential in the watershed volume by almost 7%. And according to the US Environmental Protection Agency, preserving and restoring wetlands, together with other water retention, can often provide the level of flood protection otherwise provided by expensive dredging operations and levees.
The Wetlands Protection Act is crucially important to the Catskills Region. Given our region’s dependency on our natural ecosystem for our tourism-based economies, wild places, and way of life, protecting all wetlands is a priority for Catskill Mountainkeeper. The Act proposes several important amendments to strengthen and improve New York’s freshwater wetland protection law, especially as the Trump administration rolls back crucial federal protections within New York. Catskill Mountainkeeper supports this bill.
The bill amends the definition section of the law to allow New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to protect smaller wetlands, making wetlands one acre or larger subject to regulation as well as smaller wetlands that are adjacent to water bodies, or those that are deemed to be of significant local importance by the DEC Commissioner subject to regulation. The bill also reforms the use and effectiveness of New York’s freshwater wetland maps by changing the definition of “wetland” so that wetlands meeting the environmental criteria in the law would be subject to regulation without the requirement that they also appear on DEC’s wetland maps. Other changes proposed by the bill include eliminating the current four-part wetland classification system and removing a provision of current law that grandfathers subdivisions and other activities in wetlands that were permitted prior to the passage of the law in 1975. Finally the bill requires that permits issued by DEC be included in the deed for the property. This provision will ensure that future prospective purchasers receive notice that structures on the property were constructed in wetlands.