Gov. Jared Polis signs legislation to protect Colorado’s wetlands and streams, provide regulatory certainty for businesses and individuals

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DENVER (May 30, 2024): Gov. Jared Polis has signed into law a bipartisan piece of legislation that will protect Colorado’s wetlands and streams — filling a regulatory gap created by a recent Supreme Court decision — and provide individuals and small businesses with a stable and predictable permitting regime for dredge and fill activities. The legislation was sponsored by Speaker of the House Julie McCluskie and Representative Karen McCormick and Senators Dylan Roberts and Barbara Kirkmeyer.

“In the wake of the Supreme Court’s Sackett decision, Colorado passed first-in-the-nation legislation to protect our state’s surface waters,” said Jill Hunsaker Ryan, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “Knowing a Sackett-like decision was a potential outcome, the department has been contemplating such a program for a long time, and now stands fully  prepared to implement it.”

“Dredge and fill activities” involve digging up or putting dirt into existing wetlands and surface waters. These activities are often necessary in housing or other construction projects before building can begin. As a result of the Supreme Court’s Sackett decision, many of the state’s surface waters would lose pre-existing federal protections, increasing the risk of pollution in these waters and leaving many construction projects in a state of uncertainty.

Under the new law, CDPHE’s Water Quality Control Division will create a new dredge and fill permitting program that must be approved by the state’s Water Quality Control Commission by Dec. 31, 2025. Once the new program is approved, the division will administer and enforce it.

The new law’s approach is consistent with both pre-existing federal dredge and fill permitting standards and historic Colorado law defining “state waters.”

“It is vital that we maintain protections for Colorado’s wetlands and streams,” said Trisha Oeth, CDPHE’s Director of Environmental Health and Protection. “It’s important for the quality of Colorado’s water supply, and it’s important for the businesses and individuals performing construction projects across the state. This new law lays out a reasonable and effective approach for protecting Colorado’s scarce water resources from pollution and degradation.”