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Nat Geosci. 2017;10(11):809-815. doi: 10.1038/ngeo3041.

Enhancing protection for vulnerable waters.

Author information

1
Department of Biology, Western University, London, ON N6A 5B7, Canada.
2
US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) Office of Research and Development, National Exposure Research Laboratory, Cincinnati, Ohio 45268, USA.
3
US EPA Office of Research and Development, Washington, DC 20460, USA.
4
Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, ON N2L 3G1, Canada.
5
Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Conservation Biology, University of Maine, Orono, Maine 04469, USA.
6
US EPA Office of Research and Development, National Exposure Research Laboratory, Las Vegas, Nevada 89119, USA.
7
School of Forest Resources and Conservation, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida 32611, USA.
8
School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana 47405, USA.
9
CSS-Dynamac, Cincinnati, Ohio 45268, USA.
10
School of Natural Resource Sciences, North Dakota State University, Fargo, North Dakota 58102, USA.
11
Odum School of Ecology, The University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia 30602, USA.
12
US EPA Office of Research and Development, National Exposure Research Laboratory, Cincinnati, Ohio 45268, USA.
13
Soil and Water Science Department, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida 32611, USA.
14
US EPA Region 4 Laboratory, Athens, Georgia 30605, USA.
15
Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center, Newton, Georgia 39870, USA.
16
US Fish and Wildlife Service, Falls Church, Virginia 22041, USA.
17
US EPA National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory, Western Ecology Division, Corvallis, Oregon 97333, USA.
18
Department of Integrative Biology, University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida 33620, USA.
19
CDM Smith, Inc., Indianapolis, Indiana 46204, USA.
20
Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia 24061, USA.
21
ORISE Fellow, US EPA Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watersheds, Washington, DC 20460, USA.
22
School of Geosciences, University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida 33620, USA.

Abstract

Governments worldwide do not adequately protect their limited freshwater systems and therefore place freshwater functions and attendant ecosystem services at risk. The best available scientific evidence compels enhanced protections for freshwater systems, especially for impermanent streams and wetlands outside of floodplains that are particularly vulnerable to alteration or destruction. New approaches to freshwater sustainability - implemented through scientifically informed adaptive management - are required to protect freshwater systems through periods of changing societal needs. One such approach introduced in the US in 2015 is the Clean Water Rule, which clarified the jurisdictional scope for federally protected waters. However, within hours of its implementation litigants convinced the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit to stay the rule, and the subsequently elected administration has now placed it under review for potential revision or rescission. Regardless of its outcome at the federal level, policy and management discussions initiated by the propagation of this rare rulemaking event have potential far-reaching implications at all levels of government across the US and worldwide. At this timely juncture, we provide a scientific rationale and three policy options for all levels of government to meaningfully enhance protection of these vulnerable waters. A fourth option, a 'do-nothing' approach, is wholly inconsistent with the well-established scientific evidence of the importance of these vulnerable waters.

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