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What the Supreme Court’s Clean Water Act decision means for Tampa Bay

The Supreme Court’s rollback of wetlands protections alarmed water advocates. But local and state regulators say there is nothing to worry about.

It was common for raw sewage and bloated dead fish to float atop Tampa’s waterways decades ago. The water was so vile that the area smelled like sulfur.

A combination of federal protections, local ordinances and grassroots efforts helped clean Tampa Bay’s waterways by the 1990s. But recent developments, like a decline in seagrass levels, wastewater spills and a rollback of fertilizer management laws, worry environmental groups.

Now, a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling has some environmentalists concerned about the Clean Water Act, the federal law that underpins water quality across the country.

They are raising alarms about the Supreme Court’s May decision in Sackett v. EPA, which changed the definition of a protected wetland. That narrowed wetlands protection under the Clean Water Act to exempt “isolated wetlands.” The court said these type of wetlands don’t significantly affect U.S. waters.

Environmental scientists and activists, however, say research shows that a wetland’s health affects water quality elsewhere, even when it isn’t connected to other bodies of water.