Saturday, December 15, 2018

Six Million Acres of Florida Karst Wetlands Up for Destruction with New EPA Wetland Definition

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There was bad news out of Washington this week for those concerned about Florida's unique karst wetlands. According to the Tampa Bay Times, a new EPA rule eliminates from protection those wetlands that are not adjacent to a water body or connected in some way to a waterway by surface water.

This rule eliminates protection from over half of the nation's wetlands as well as half of Florida's wetlands. 

There are many areas of the country where there are isolated wetlands that are not connected to waterbodies. The glaciated areas of Wisconsin and other areas of the Midwest have many low marshes or swamps that are now vulnerable. Likewise, the unusual wetlands of the Great Plains, which are so important for migratory birds and other wildlife, are now up for development.

However, there is no place more vulnerable to the loss of wetlands than the interior karst landscape of Florida. Here, low sinkhole swales create seasonal wetlands that serve as important habitat for a variety of animals. These swales are also extremely important for water storage to protect areas from flooding. 

The nature of sinkholes is such that they are not connected to waterways above ground, but instead are connected below ground through groundwater systems. The loss of these important recharge sites for groundwater will transform natural groundwater systems and lead to changes in local and regional hydrology. 

Many low sinkhole areas in Florida have been preserved as developers created an H-shaped megalopolis extending from north of Tampa to Fort Myers on the west, through Orlando, and from Jacksonville to Miami on the east. Now, builders are free to fill in the gaps by filling in low areas in the remaining natural areas of the state.

There have been many roll-backs of strong environmental rules over the last two years and this particular change is going to have serious environmental consequences for some of our more vulnerable landscapes in North America.

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