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Colorado lawmakers, officials grapple with U.S. Supreme Court ruling on wetlands

The 2024 legislative session is likely to see lawmakers trying to figure out how to protect Colorado wetlands following a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that applied a more stringent test on what should be considered one.

A panel of legislators last month heard pleas from municipal and state officials to come up with a policy to continue to protect the state's wetlands in light of Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency, a case that redefined the terms by which a body of water can get protection under the Environmental Protection Agency's "Waters of the United States" rule.

Jeni Arndt at the US Environmental Protection Agency

They said half of Colorado wetlands — meaning nearly a million acres — could lose protection and that any state action should provide clarity to water users and businesses, particularly when it comes to permitting. The panel also deliberated practical questions, such as which agency should be in charge of any new permitting program.

So, why do wetlands matter?

Alex Funk, director of water resources & senior counsel for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, offered an answer. Funk said almost 90% of fish and wildlife in Colorado rely on the state's wetlands at some point during their lifecycle. That includes species such as the Gunnison sage grouse, greenback cutthroat trout and migratory birds, he said.

Fort Collins Mayor Jeni James Arndt, a former state representative, talked to the committee about how Sackett could affect her community and noted the federal funding available from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act. She said construction projects funded by the act are on the way, such as for more water storage, Front Range Rail or other projects.

She told committee members she hopes at least one or two of them would be enticed to come up with legislation: "I just can't overestimate the importance of a thorough, reasonable permitting program that allows permits and protects the environment."

Read the full article from Colorado Politics here:

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