Federal protection could be lifted for "a big chunk" of wetlands in Kansas, officials say, but the Baker Wetlands south of Lawrence should remain relatively safe.
Proposed revisions to the federal Clean Water Act would allow development of "isolated" wetlands, which are now off-limits to construction.
Environmentalists and biologists say wetlands are prime habitat for water fowl and many other species. They also act as a natural filter for the streams and lakes that provide much of the state's drinking water.
"It's not going to be good for Kansas or Kansas wetlands," said John Bond, a chapter coordinator for the Kansas Alliance for Wetlands and Streams.
Martin Kessler, a spokesman for the Environmental Protection Agency, said the Baker Wetlands were part of the Wakarusa River system -- and thus not "isolated."
"The Baker Wetlands should still be protected under the new rule," Kessler said.
Opposition to the South Lawrence Trafficway has centered on federal protections for wetlands. The 32nd Street route that planners favor would take drivers through the heart of the Baker Wetlands. Because of federal rules, traffic officials would have to build new wetlands to offset the loss if the road is built there.
The rules revisions "won't affect the trafficway issue," said Kelly Kindscher, an associate scientist with the Kansas Biological Survey at Kansas University.
But wetlands across the rest of the state could be affected.
Kessler said the last estimate, in 1990, showed that Kansas had 435,400 acres of wetlands.
"Isolated wetlands is a big chunk of that" total, Kessler said.
The federal rules haven't been completely successful in protecting wetlands from development.
"It's a good assumption that (total acreage) has decreased since then, because of the dredging of wetlands, filling in of wetlands," Kessler said.
Carey Maynard-Moody, vice chair of Lawrence's Sierra Club chapter, agreed.
"Kansas has lost more than its fair share of wetlands," she said.
Government scientists haven't been able to update the estimate since 1990, Kessler said, because they didn't have the money.
Kindscher said as a result, it was tough to know how much Kansas would be affected.
There is "good acreage," Kindscher said, "but there are no maps of where it's at."
Kessler said the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had no timeline for giving final approval to the draft rule. More than 30 states have registered opposition, but a spokesman for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment did not know Tuesday whether Kansas was among the critics.
Maynard-Moody said the rule change would make little sense.
"What constitutes an isolated wetland?" she said. "Water can't be stopped -- it's hard to say any wetland is isolated, unless it's a pothole."
|J-W Staff ReportsU.S. Sen Pat Roberts, R-Kan., has introduced legislation he says will preserve playa lakes, a type of wetlands common along the Ogallala Aquifer in western Kansas.The bill allows farmers to enroll up to 40 acres of playa in the Conservation Reserve Program, which pays farmers to conserve land and other natural resources.Roberts said the program should help the aquifer recharge itself. "The playa lakes are wetlands often overlooked but invaluable to water quality, to recharging the Ogallala Aquifer and as sanctuary for wintering birds," he said.|