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EPA's Decision To Scrap Clean Water Rule Could Weaken Missouri’s Flood Defenses

A pond at the Clarence Cannon National Wildlife Refuge
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri has about 200,000 acres of wetlands behind levees that were protected by the Waters of the U.S. rule that was repealed Thursday.

Environmental advocates say that the Environmental Protection Agency’s repeal of a Clean Water Act rule Thursday could raise the flood risk for Missouri residents.

The EPA established the Waters of the U.S. rule in 2015 to give federal protections to wetlands and small streams connected to major waterways in 22 states. Farmers, miners and business groups complained that the rule imposed undue economic burdens.

Rolling back the Obama-era rule eliminates protections for about 200,000 acres of wetlands behind levees in Missouri, said Maisah Khan, water policy director at the Missouri Coalition for the Environment.

“We just had extreme flooding happen in the state of Missouri this past spring, and we know that preserving wetlands mitigates flood risk,” she said. 

Wetlands can store water during floods. Missouri has experienced multiple major floods in the past decade.

Removing protections for small streams could also worsen the quality of drinking water for about 2 million Missourians, Khan said. 

The Missouri Farm Bureau praised the decision, which it said would remove burdens on farmers. The Waters of the U.S. rule restricted the use of pesticides and fertilizers in order to prevent pollution. The regulation was one of the worst ideas to come out of Washington, D.C., said Blake Hurst, the organization’s president. 

“Anyone whose livelihood is working the land simply could not comply no matter what they did,” Hurst stated in a press release. 

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Eli is the science and environment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.