A shocking Supreme Court decision scaling back protections for the majority of the nation’s wetlands has unfurled a hazy regulatory landscape, even as it is set to both open up major development opportunities and threaten public lands across the country.
“It is clear from the opinion that isolated ephemeral waters are out,” said Larry Liebesman, a permitting expert and senior adviser at the firm Dawson & Associates, referencing dry streambeds that flow after receiving rain. But, he added, it is “far from clear” whether that also extends to intermittent waters that flow into a regulated water body, or just how to determine whether a wetland is “connected enough to be considered ‘adjoining.'”
Intermittent and ephemeral waters that do not run all year are also in peril after Sackett. That will affect Western lands where waters often run dry for much of the year but play a vital role in their ecosystems.
The National Parks Conservation Association said the ruling would have sprawling implications for the U.S. National Park System, where two-thirds of waters are already threatened by upstream pollution.
The Army Corps of Engineers has placed a pause on key wetlands determinations pending the release of guidance explaining the impact of the Sackett ruling.
The landscape has changed dramatically for any entity seeking a permit. Section 404 of the Clean Water Act governs the discharge of dredged or fill material into U.S. waters, with only three states currently overseeing their own programs and the rest subject to federal oversight.
“The practical implications of the decision are that federal Clean Water Act permits will no longer be required in many, if not most, situations where they previously were required,” offered Ben Cowan, an environmental partner at Locke Lord’s Houston office. “This will remove one obstacle to project development and, as importantly, will provide much greater clarity as to whether or not a project will require a permit.”
Legal experts agree that EPA and the Army Corps will also need to go back to the drawing board and revise their rule, although the ultimate outcome is unclear.
Cowan said the agencies could try to push their jurisdiction around what constitutes a “continuous surface connection.” But for now, wetlands protection will largely fall to the states, which do not tend to have robust programs in place for overseeing those areas.
“The question is to what extent these states may enact laws and policies to cover formerly regulated waters,” said Liebesman.

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Pete Halmay has been diving for California sea urchins for over 40 years. He is also the president of the San Diego Fishermen's Working Group. Here, he remembers in his own words how the fisheries have changed and the role that Sea Grant has started to play in the industry. This is part of a special series celebrating California Sea Grant's 50th anniversary.
“I'm 81 years old now. I'm slowing down but still go diving four days a week. I enjoy it just as much as I always have. On days that I can't go fishing, I don't feel very good. 
In my early days, in the mid-1970s, we had 32,000 commercial fishermen in California. Today, there are about 3,000 to 5,000. 
I remember vividly when the first Sea Grant advisor started showing up in the 1970s. His name was Art Flechsig. I believe he was an electrician by training. He walked the docks on Thursdays. Or, maybe it was Fridays. Whenever he'd see a fisherman aboard his boat, Art would stop and ask if he had any questions. He had written handouts about types of gear we could use and things like that. This was long before we had email. 
Later, it was mostly scientists that came from Sea Grant. I realized that the scientists and us fishermen had to learn a mutual language. With time, we did — and after that, we made real progress. Some became good friends. 
Suddenly we had an identity
Fast forward to ten years ago. Sea Grant’s Theresa Talley showed up. Right away she asked, ‘What's important to you fishermen? What can I help with?’ We said direct marketing. At that time, there was no such thing as a fishermen's market. Theresa helped us get the Tuna Harbor Dockside Market in San Diego started. And she did a study because we couldn’t figure out who our customers would be.
We thought we’d make a little more money if we sold directly to the customers. But what we found out is that the fishermen's market sold fishing itself. Local fishing — the idea that it exists, that it’s part of the community. Until then, we sold our product to a wholesaler; they sold it to the consumer. And nobody knew where the fish had come from. Suddenly, we had an identity.
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The Supreme Court on Thursday sharply limited the federal government’s authority to police water pollution into certain wetlands, the second decision in as many years in which a conservative majority narrowed the reach of environmental regulations.
The outcome could threaten efforts to control flooding on the Mississippi River and protect the Chesapeake Bay, among many projects, wrote Justice Brett Kavanaugh, breaking with the other five conservatives. Environmental advocates said the decision would strip protections from tens of millions of acres of wetlands.
By a 5–4 vote, the court said in an opinion by Justice Samuel Alito that wetlands can only be regulated under the Clean Water Act if they have a “continuous surface connection” to larger, regulated bodies of water. There is no such connection on the Sacketts’ property.
Kavanaugh wrote that the court’s “new and overly narrow test may leave long-regulated and long-accepted-to-be regulable wetlands suddenly beyond the scope of the agencies’ regulatory authority.”
California water officials say they are disappointed with the decision, but that the ruling doesn’t block California’s stronger environmental rules.
The Supreme Court ruled that the Clean Water Act only applies to wetlands with aboveground flow to main-stem rivers and other big bodies of water. California passed stronger environmental rules in 2019 protecting marshes that sit behind levees, dikes and dunes.
While the state is confident in its rules, Eric Buescher with [San Francisco] Baykeeper says state law doesn’t require industry to report wetland pollution. “That self-identification is vital to communities knowing who is polluting or where pollution is occurring,” said Buescher.
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The Cal Poly Humboldt women’s rowing team won a national championship with a perfect score on Saturday. The Lumberjacks won both the Fours Grand Final and Eights Grand Final at the NCAA Division-II championships in New Jersey.

This is the third time in program history that the Cal Poly program has taken home a national title, having also done so in 2012 and 2014.

The Humboldt V4 lineup consisted of Emily Daniels (coxswain), Sarah Lorenzini, Kylie Mosley, Chloe Pieper-Wasem, and Gewndolyn Sutton.

The Humboldt V8 lineup included coxswain Sonja Scollon and Malia Seeley, Alyssa Paynton, Gabriella Griffin, Dana Foley, Cassidy Hollenbeck, Kealey Scott, Elizabeth Walters, and Molly Urtz.

The team is coached by head coach Matt Weise and assistants Ashley Donnell and Patrick Hyland.

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Representative Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) shared the announcement that over $4.4 million from President Biden’s Investing in America Agenda has been awarded to expedite the assessment and cleanup of brownfield sites in Northern California while advancing environmental justice. $1.45 of this funding is headed specifically to three projects in California’s Second Congressional District: Hoopa Valley Tribe, Cleanup Grant; Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation, and Conservation District, Assessment Grant; and Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation, Cleanup Grant. 
The Harbor District was awarded $500,000 to support assessment and cleanup planning at the Redwood Marine Terminal, focusing on a former lumber mill with pentachlorophenol and dioxin contamination to support redevelopment into the Humboldt Bay Offshore Wind Heavy Lift Marine Terminal. The new terminal will support tenants in the manufacturing, installation, and operation of renewable energy offshore wind floating platforms and provide crewing and marshaling services in the waters of the Pacific Ocean.
“Cleaning up brownfields is good for the environment, the economy, and surrounding communities that suffer the lasting impacts that polluting and extractive industries have left behind. Contaminated and abandoned areas are dangerous blemishes that keep communities from using these places to the fullest,” said Rep. Jared Huffman. “It’s great to see money from Democrats’ historic investments going towards cleanup projects in my district. Part of our vision for the Investing in America Agenda is to rebuild and restore our land and infrastructure with a focus on climate resiliency and environmental justice. This grant will go a long way in revitalizing potential wastelands, allowing them to be utilized as working places for the tribes and cities that depend on them.”
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