In its first act to shield California from the Trump administration’s repeal of regulations, the state’s water board has prepared its own rules protecting wetlands and other waters.
The proposed new rules, scheduled for a vote by the board this summer, could insulate the state from President Donald Trump’s executive order to roll back the reach of the Clean Water Act. That rollback would strip federal protection from seasonal streambeds, isolated pools and other transitory wetlands, exposing them to damage, pollution or destruction from housing developments, energy companies and farms.
“When you look at it from a historical perspective, California has lost the vast majority of the wetland resources,” said planner Paul Hann, who oversees the State Water Resources Control Board’s wetlands protection program. “We want to capture the rich diversity of wetlands across the state. These resources play a big role in improving our water quality and providing a valuable benefit in terms of flood protection, wildlife habitat and recreation.”
Over the past two centuries, California has lost roughly 90 percent of its wetlands, leaving 2.9 million acres, according to the California Natural Resources Agency. These remaining wetlands support more species of plants and animals than any other habitat, including an estimated 41 percent of California’s rare and endangered species.
Stepping in to protect its wetlands “is a prime example of a state exerting its right to protect itself from federal rollbacks,” said attorney Rachel Zwillinger, a water policy adviser for Defenders of Wildlife. “California is showing the type of state leadership that our system of cooperative federalism envisions.”
What’s at stake
Winter brings dormancy and frozen earth to much of the country. But on the border of Marin and Sonoma counties, about 40 miles north of San Francisco, hundreds of creeks and lakes are springing to life. Birds swoop in from the north, steelhead and salmon edge their way upstream, and newts and pond turtles emerge in waterways fed by rain.
“The end of the summer is such a terrible time when it’s dry and dusty and the earth is parched. When it starts to rain, it’s like heaven,” said Sally Gale, a fifth-generation rancher in Petaluma who is president of the Marin Resource Conservation District. “The earth smells so rich and fertile. In a couple of days, you see a sprinkling of green across the pasture. The network of rivulets and wetlands looks like veins on a leaf.”
“The land comes back to life. It’s magic,” Gale said.