Lawsuit Aimed at Army Corps Leads to Protection of Critical Wetland South of Myrtle Beach
Following a court challenge brought by conservation groups, the Army Corps of Engineers has reversed its removal of federal protection for a large wetland near Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, and brought the wetland under the federal Clean Water Act.
“Despite the vital benefits wetlands provide to communities and wildlife, many are at risk of being destroyed by development across the South,” said Chris DeScherer, Director of the Coast and Wetlands Program at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “The Corps must apply careful review to decisions regarding wetlands or the South will continue to lose these invaluable natural resources at staggering rates.”
U.S. Supreme Court rulings over the past several years created confusion over which wetlands are protected by the Clean Water Act and essentially left it to the Corps to decide on a case-by-case basis for most wetlands and streams. When Spectre, LLC, proposed to fill the wetland in Horry County, the Corps declared the wetland “isolated” and therefore not subject to federal protection.
The Southern Environmental Law Center and National Wildlife Federation filed suit in federal court in 2009 on behalf of the Coastal Conservation League, National Wildlife Federation, S.C. Wildlife Federation, and Waccamaw Riverkeeper. An investigation by the conservation groups indicated that the wetland is connected with the Waccamaw River and should have been protected.
On November 1, 2010, the Corps filed its revised evaluation of the wetland in federal district court in Charleston. The Corps’ analysis shows that the wetland is hydrologically connected to a tributary of the Waccamaw River and that the wetland, along with other nearby wetlands, provides significant benefits to downstream waters and the surrounding area, including stormwater filtration, flood storage, and vital habitat for wildlife.
“This lawsuit has demonstrated that the Corps must be vigilant in evaluating wetlands and streams before stripping them of federal protection under the Clean Water Act,” said Nancy Cave, office director of the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League’s North Coast office.
Wetlands improve water quality, buffer storms, and act as freshwater reservoirs and habitat for fish, shellfish and migratory birds. When hurricanes batter the coast, wetlands are the first line of defense for communities. They absorb excess rainwater and filter runoff in downpours. When drought threatens, wetlands are important natural reservoirs. These benefits will be increasingly important for South Carolina as the climate changes and flooding events and storm surges likely increase in frequency and intensity. The extent of resources put at risk due to the confusion created by the recent Supreme Court rulings is staggering: in the continental U.S., about 60 percent of our stream miles do not flow year round, and approximately 20 percent of our more than 100 million acres of wetlands are geographically isolated.
“This decision shows that if the Corps properly applies sound science and looks at both the individual and aggregate benefits wetlands provide, it can protect valuable wetlands in South Carolina and throughout the Southeast,” said Jim Murphy, attorney for the National Wildlife Federation.
About South Carolina Coastal Conservation League
The Coastal Conservation League is a grassroots non-profit conservation organization, founded in 1989 to protect the natural environment of the South Carolina coastal plain and to enhance the quality of life of our coastal communities. The League works with individuals, businesses, and government to ensure balanced solutions.
About South Carolina Wildlife Federation
The South Carolina Wildlife Federation, SCWF, promotes effective habitat conservation and respect for outdoor traditions through statewide leadership, education, advocacy and partnerships. The Federation was formed in 1931, when a handful of sportsmen crisscrossed the state to recruit fellow outdoor enthusiasts. In just a few months, around 2,000 people joined as charter members.
About National Wildlife Federation
National Wildlife Federation is America’s conservation organization inspiring Americans to protect wildlife for our children’s future.
About Waccamaw Riverkeeper
The Waccamaw RIVERKEEPER(r) Program is a program of Winyah Rivers Foundation. Our mission is to protect, preserve, monitor and revitalize the health of the lands and waters of the greater Winyah Bay watershed. We are a grassroots organization, working locally to educate and advocate for protection of our watershed.