Revised Definition of “Waters of the United States” Announced

Revised Definition of “Waters of the United States” Announced

In 1972 Congress passed the Clean Water Act, which included dozens of regulations and permit requirements for anyone discharging pollution into the “waters of the United States.”

Ever since, the ambiguity of that phrase, waters of the United States, has caused confusion, cost money and resulted in significant legal wrangling between industry and regulators.

In 2015, the EPA updated the definition, attempting to clarify which streams and wetlands fell under the Clean Water Act. Fierce blowback from farmers and industry groups was the result. President Trump signed an executive order in 2017 promising to repeal and replace the 2015 definition, and earlier this year, the EPA suspended Obama-era rule.

On December 11th, the EPA revealed the replacement, promising it would:

  • Smooth over the gray areas that made compliance so difficult
  • Clearly define the difference between federally protected waterways and state protected waterways
  • Allow landowners to easily understand whether a project on their property would require a permit, without spending an exorbitant amount on engineering and legal consultants

According to the joint release issued by the EPA and the Department of the Army, the new definition includes the following:

What is “waters of the United States” under the new definition

“…traditional navigable waters, tributaries to those waters, certain ditches, certain lakes and ponds, impoundments of jurisdictional waters, and wetlands adjacent to jurisdictional waters…”

What is not “waters of the United States” under the new definition

“…features that only contain water during or in response to rainfall (e.g., ephemeral features); groundwater; many ditches, including most roadside or farm ditches; prior converted cropland; stormwater control features; and waste treatment systems.”

Watch the announcement below:

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