Swamped With Cash

Political campaign contributions and the assault on America's wetlands laws

March 1, 1996

Swamped With Cash: Developers Win, Everyone Else Loses

Not only do wetlands serve important habitat functions in their own right, but they help keep the nation's rivers, lakes and streams clean and healthy. Wetlands act as natural filters, trapping sediment, pathogens and other pollutants from waters that flow through them. Every time a wetland is destroyed, it makes it that much harder, and more expensive, to keep our water clean for drinking, swimming, fishing and other uses.

The federal field testing teams were asked to evaluate the types of wetlands functions that would be lost if H.R. 961 or S. 851 were to become law. In virtually every state, the wetlands that would lose protection were identified as providing important functions for maintaining water quality. These functions included filtration of pollutants, including pesticides and fertilizers, from runoff; sediment and toxicant retention; chemical and nutrient absorption; and removal or degradation of pathogens from waters flowing through wetlands into lakes, streams, and rivers. All of these functions are vital for maintaining healthy water quality, and are particularly valuable if the wetlands filter water that is later used--downstream or from groundwater--for public drinking water supplies.

Greater levels of pollution mean more contaminated drinking water sources, higher costs for drinking water treatment, and loss of jobs dependent on clean water. When wetlands are lost, these costs are passed on to taxpayers, local communities and the public at large. The developer of the wetland, however, walks away with most of the profits.