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Colorado’s Critical Waterways are at risk! Take action to promote strong protections of wetlands and streams.

Show your support for strong waterway protections to be included in a statewide program intended to fill the federal regulatory gap for wetlands and seasonal streams following the Sackett vs. EPA Supreme Court ruling.

What's the issue?

Colorado citizens need to act now and express to our legislators the importance of protecting the vitality of our watersheds. We urge you to voice your concerns over the lack of regulation and protection for wetlands and seasonal streams that are no longer covered by the Clean Water Act. Efforts to create a Colorado state-wide regulatory framework for permitting activities along these vulnerable waterways are underway at the Colorado General Assembly. Legislators need to hear from their constituents the value of prioritizing waterway protections over industry wants. Please consider contacting your legislator to ensure these critical waters are regulated with watershed vitality and sustainability in mind. The future of a reliable and clean water supply in Colorado will require prioritizing the protection of wetlands and seasonal streams.

What's the history?

In May of 2023, the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) overturned decades of environmental protections for waterways that are essential to Colorado’s citizen’s access to clean water and healthy ecosystems. Following the SCOTUS decision, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) amended the Clean Water Act to no longer provide federal protection for wetlands that lack a year-round surface water connection to navigable waters, and for ephemeral, or seasonally running streams. The Clean Water Act institutes a regulatory process for development activities such as mining, building roads, residential and commercial construction, and burying utility lines which can negatively impact the quality of Waters of the United States. The recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court removes protections for about half of Colorado’s waterways which are under threat of degradation as they are no longer subject to federal regulation. In this wake, the people of Colorado must take action to ensure state-wide protection of wetlands and seasonal streams for the vitality of our communities and landscapes. To do this, San Juan Citizens Alliance urges you to express your concerns to our state representatives about the need to protect the waterways which are now vulnerable to being destroyed.

Why is it important to protect these waterways?

The role of healthy, functioning wetlands and ephemeral streams throughout the Western Slope of Colorado is essential to both environmental health and community vitality. Wetlands function as natural filtration systems that ensure downstream quality for drinking water, recreation, and agriculture use. The spongy soils that compose a wetland serve as naturally distributed water storage, storing water during wet periods and slowly releasing it during dry spells. Wetlands are the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the world and support more than 90% of Colorado’s wildlife use. Large and healthy wetlands systems also serve as wildlife refuges during wildfire occurrence, as large wetlands function as natural fire breaks along the landscape. Following wildfire occurrence and heavy precipitation events, wetlands reduce flooding impacts by absorbing excess water and storing it within their soils.

Seasonal streams are equally essential to providing water quality benefits and a sustainable supply throughout Colorado’s Western Slope. Most streams in this semi-arid environment only run seasonally due to snow-melt or rain. When these events occur, water percolates underground to the water table and can sustain plants and wildlife in landscapes where water is scarce. Adding to the water table influences nearby perennial streams, as year-round surface water requires groundwater to sustain flows. The protection of these ecosystems is linked to the well-being of all of Colorado’s Western Slope where water supply is projected to decrease while land use and water demands continue to grow. As a headwater state, we must secure the future of clean and reliable water supply for our communities, industries, and the environment. 

What is the proposed solution?

The Supreme Court’s decision necessitates that states respond and develop their own solutions. Colorado, alongside other states, is now considering legislation to provide safeguards for the wetlands and streams impacted by this decision to reduce the impacts from development, and pollution associated with industrial activities such as mining. The best way to protect these wetlands and streams is to establish a state permit program that landowners, developers or other industries would need to obtain prior to building in potentially affected wetlands and waterways.

What is being done?

There is a current effort at the state legislature to create a state-wide permitting and enforcement program for waters that are no longer federally protected. State legislators need to hear from their constituents that they value strong rules for these critical waterways to ensure they are protected from degradation. Citizen engagement will be critical as the legislature discusses draft language in the near future.

What can you do?

We encourage you to contact your state legislators and voice your concerns over the loss of protections for a large number of Colorado wetlands and seasonal streams. Emphasizing strong protections for critical waterways will ensure the vitality of wetlands and seasonal streams for generations to come. 

Here are ways to contact your legislators:
Colorado House of Representatives District 59:
Colorado State Senate District 6:
  • Counties: Alamosa, Archuleta, Conejos, Costilla, Dolores, La Plata, Mineral, Montezuma, Montrose, Ouray, Rio Grande, Saguache, San Juan, San Miguel
  • Senator: Cleave Simpson 
If you live outside of these districts and would like to contact your legislators, use the Find My Legislator map to find their contact information. 

Talking Points:

  • I am invested in cleaner water: Protecting wetlands helps filter and purify water, ensuring that the water sources used by Coloradans for drinking, recreation and agriculture remain clean and free from pollutants.
  • I am concerned about flooding: Wetlands act as natural sponges, absorbing excess water during heavy rain or snowmelt. By protecting wetlands, we can reduce the risk of floods and the associated damage to homes and infrastructure.
  • Drought resilience should be a state-wide priority: Wetlands act as natural reservoirs, storing water during wet periods and releasing it during dry spells. Protecting these areas enhances Colorado’s resilience to droughts by maintaining a more consistent and reliable water supply.
  • I care about the services provided for agricultural production: Wetlands contribute to soil health and provide water for irrigation, supporting agricultural activities in Colorado. Protecting wetlands ensures a sustainable environment for farming.
  • I am interested in promoting economic benefits: Healthy wetlands contribute to a robust economy. They contribute to Colorado’s economy by supporting agriculture, and businesses, attracting tourists, and providing recreational opportunities. The preservation of wetlands can positively impact local businesses and employment.
  • I enjoy recreating along waterways and want to ensure they are available for future generations: Many Coloradans enjoy outdoor activities such as birdwatching, hiking, and fishing. Preserving wetlands maintains natural spaces for outdoor activities, enhancing the quality of life for Coloradans who enjoy the state’s beautiful landscapes.
  • I am concerned about climate change and care about mitigation opportunities: Wetlands play a role in sequestering carbon, helping to mitigate the impacts of climate change. By protecting and restoring wetlands, Colorado can contribute to national efforts to reduce pollution and adapt to changing climate conditions.
  • I care about cultural and spiritual values associated with wetlands: Many indigenous communities and residents have cultural and spiritual connections to wetlands. Protecting these areas respects and preserves the cultural heritage of Colorado’s diverse communities.
  • I am concerned about the impacts on wildlife and biodiversity: Wetlands provide habitats for a wide variety of plant and animal species. Protecting these areas preserves Colorado’s diverse ecosystems, supporting biodiversity and the balance of local wildlife. 

Examples of Waterways with No Regulatory Protections:

Questions?

Contact Animas Riverkeeper Sara Burch at sara@sanjuancitizens.org.