In response to the criticism, the Bush administration has now developed a new definition of wetlands that would permit construction and farming on up to 10 million acres of land previously classified as wetlands and off limits to development (Schneider, 1991); representatives of the Environmental Defense Fund, an environmental group, have asserted that the new definition would allow the development of up to 30 million acres — one-third of the nation's remaining wetlands. The new definition has had strong backing from the administration's Council on Competitiveness, chaired by Vice President Quayle.
At best, even the original no-net-loss policy meant only no further loss in the aggregate of wetland function or area. Hence, it meant no net return of lost ecological functions and no increase in the nation's wetland area. To recover some of the lost area and functions (e.g., control of soil and nutrient loss, aquifer recharge, control of floods, and provision of nutrient subsidies to fisheries), a major wetland restoration and protection program, particularly in agricultural and coastal regions, is needed. In view of the tremendous losses that have been sustained by the wetland resource base, our national goal should in fact be anet gain in wetlands, rather than no additional loss. A similar line of reasoning leads us to believe that, at a minimum, a no-net-loss policy for all other aquatic resources should be implemented as well. Detailed national studies should be conducted of wetlands and of each major aquatic resource type to set national goals for achieving net gains in all aquatic resources through resource restoration.
This report presents major elements of an agenda for restoration of aquatic resources. Although the details of this agenda will have to be articulated by scientists, public officials, and citizens working together, some characteristics of a national restoration strategy are already discernible. In the broadest terms, aquatic ecosystem restoration objectives must be a high priority in a national restoration agenda: such an agenda must provide for restoration of as much of the damaged aquatic resource base as possible, if not to its predisturbance condition then to a superior ecological condition that far surpasses the degraded one, so that valuable ecosystem services will not be lost.
Despite a continuing national pattern of loss of aquatic resources in area, quality, and function, comparatively little is being invested today on a national scale to restore aquatic ecosystems. Although no reliable estimate of current national spending on aquatic ecosystem