The analysis, Shelter from the Storm: How Wetlands Protect Our Communities from Flooding, shows that the area’s wetlands are at risk from pollution and development, however, and so is the region’s natural shield against flood damage.
“Our wetlands are nature’s first line of defense against storms and flooding,” said David Masur Executive Director with PennEnvironment. “We need to protect what’s left of them.”
Floods are the most common natural disaster in the United States, causing an average of $8.2 billion in damage each year for the past 30 years. In recent years, Pennsylvania has been deluged from flooding caused by, but not limited to, extreme weather events like Superstorm Sandy and Tropical Storm Lee. In turn, this massive flooding led to the evacuation of the Governor’s Mansion in Harrisburg, and the evacuation of nearly 100,000 people in the Scranton area due to the threat of flooding.
All told, Pennsylvania still has over 375,000 acres of freshwater wetlands across the Commonwealth, including 163,000 acres in flood-prone areas. These wetlands are capable of absorbing nearly 125 billion gallons of water, or enough to cover Lackawanna County in over 15 inches of rain.
Congressman Cartwright called the Clean Water Rule the “biggest step forward for clean water in over a decade" at a press event in Scranton.
As global warming continues, scientists predict that the damage caused by floods will only increase. Warmer air is able to hold more water vapor, leading to higher levels of precipitation during rain and snowstorms. At the start of this decade, storms were already producing 20 percent in Pennsylvania than they did in the 1970’s.
A loophole in the nation’s Clean Water Act leaves nearly 50,000 miles of Pennsylvania’s smaller streams and 20 million acres of wetlands across the country without guaranteed protection under the law. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed restoring the safeguards with a rule expected to be finalized as early as next month.
The restored clean water and wetland protections have won support from hundreds of thousands of Americans, farmers, small businesses, and local officials, including the ongoing leadership of Congressman Matthew Cartwright. Developers and other polluters have waged a bitter campaign against them in the U.S. Congress, however.
“Wetlands give us shelter from the storm, so the law should shelter wetlands from development and pollution,” said Masur. “We call on Senator Bob Casey to stand up to the polluters in the U.S. Senate and back protections for all of our streams and wetlands, and we applaud the ongoing leadership of Congressman Matt Cartwright for standing up to the polluters and championing protections for all our streams and wetlands in the U.S House of Representatives.”