INDIANAPOLIS — A looming U.S. Supreme Court decision could have a big impact on Indiana’s wetlands.
The nation’s highest court heard oral arguments earlier this month in a case that challenges the federal EPA’s authority to regulate wetlands under the Clean Water Act.
Carrie Roberts walks Eagle Creek Park three times a week with a friend.
“There’s lots of animals, and the fall colors are beautiful,” said Roberts.
Roberts passes by some of Eagle Creek’s wetlands during her walks, but like many people, doesn’t give it much thought.
“It’s just the enjoyment of the park, having someplace that is natural and taken care of,” said Roberts.
Indra Frank is giving wetlands a lot of thought, especially in light of the Supreme Court’s decision.
“I’m worried about it,” said Frank.
She’s the Director of Environmental Health and Water Policy for the Hoosier Environmental Council.
Currently, about 80 percent of Indiana’s wetlands have federal protection, but that could drop to 20 percent if the Supreme Court rules against the EPA.
“It’s a big deal,” said Frank.
Wetlands serve an important purpose—they alleviate flooding, purify water, recharge aquifers, and provide a habitat for half of Indiana species with small or declining populations, according to the Indiana DNR.
Some wetlands are already protected by city parks or trusts like the Central Indiana Land Trust, which means no one can build a road or a building on it, or turn it into farmland.
However, many Indiana wetlands rely on federal protection.
If protections are stripped away, Frank says you could see a loss of wildlife and see more flooding in your community as a result.
"Wetlands serve like a giant sponge on the landscape,” said Frank. “An acre of wetlands can hold a million gallons of water or more. So, when we have big rains and big storms, the wetlands can soak up some of that and reduce the amount that's running straight into streams and causing flooding."
Last year, Indiana passed a law that removed some state protections for wetlands despite more than 100 groups who signed a letter asking the Governor to veto it.
"The argument is that if I own a property with a wetland on it, I should be able to do whatever I want,” said Frank.
One of the bill’s biggest supporters, the Indiana Builders Association, points out, “regulations at the federal, state and local level now account for roughly 25% of the cost of a house."
The IBA declined to comment on the looming Supreme Court decision regarding the EPA and wetland protections.
Indra Frank says the SCOTUS decision comes at a crucial time as researchers say Indiana receives 5.5 inches more of precipitation than it did a year ago.
“We're on track to increase another 6 to 8 percent,” said Frank. “We are receiving more water than ever, and more if it is arriving in extra heavy storms. We actually need our wetlands now more than ever. "
Read the Indiana Wetland Task Force’s most recent report below.