New York wetlands are ‘shelter from the storm’

Media Contacts
Heather Leibowitz

Environment New York Research and Policy Center

New York, NY- Enough wetlands remain in the flood-prone areas of Orange County to hold enough rain to cover Newburgh in more than a foot of water, according to a new report by Environment New York Research & Policy Center.

The analysis, Shelter from the Storm: How Wetlands Protect Our Communities from Flooding, says 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 Heather Leibowitz, Director of Environment New York. “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 New York, Hurricane Irene hit Upstate New York the hardest with 11 inches of rain falling on the Hudson Valley in a single day. The storm washed out roads and bridges, destroyed homes and municipal buildings, and ruined crops, causing at least $81 million in damage in Orange County alone.

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 19 percent more in state than they did in the 1970’s.

“As the City of Port Jervis is located on the banks where the Delaware and Neversink Rivers come together, we believe in protecting our wetlands as they improve water quality, assist in flood control, provide habitat for birds and fish and only add to the recreational activities available to residents and visitors alike,” said the Mayor Kelly B. Decker of the City of Port Jervis. “In fact, our city codes are currently under review to provide additional improvements to our ongoing efforts.”

A loophole in the nation’s Clean Water Act leaves the state’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. 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 Leibowitz. “We call on Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney to stand up to the polluters and back protections for all of our streams and wetlands.”