EPA, Army finalize Clean Water Rule for protection of U.S. water resources

May 27, 2015
The Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army have reached a historic milestone by officially finalizing the Clean Water Rule, designed to protect streams and wetlands that form the foundation of the nation's water resources from ongoing threats of pollution and degradation.

WASHINGTON, DC, May 27, 2015 -- Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army reached a historic milestone by officially finalizing the Clean Water Rule (CWR), or "Waters of the U.S." rule, designed to protect streams and wetlands that form the foundation of the nation's water resources from ongoing threats of pollution and degradation (see: "EPA, Army Corps propose rule to clarify protection for U.S. streams, wetlands").

The CWR ensures that waters protected under the Clean Water Act are more precisely defined and predictably determined, making permitting less costly, easier and faster for businesses and industry. The rule is grounded in law and the latest science and is shaped by public input. Further, it does not create any new permitting requirements for agriculture and maintains all previous exemptions and exclusions.

"For the water in the rivers and lakes in our communities that flow to our drinking water to be clean, the streams and wetlands that feed them need to be clean too," said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. "Protecting our water sources is a critical component of adapting to climate change impacts like drought, sea level rise, stronger storms, and warmer temperatures -- which is why EPA and the Army have finalized the Clean Water Rule to protect these important waters, so we can strengthen our economy and provide certainty to American businesses."

"Today's rule marks the beginning of a new era in the history of the Clean Water Act," said Assistant Secretary for the Army (Civil Works) Jo-Ellen Darcy. "This rule responds to the public's demand for greater clarity, consistency and predictability when making jurisdictional determinations. The result will be better public service nationwide."

Protection for many of the nation's streams and wetlands has been confusing, complex and time-consuming as the result of Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006. EPA and the Army are taking this action today to provide clarity on protections under the Clean Water Act after receiving requests for over a decade from members of Congress, state and local officials, industry, agriculture, environmental groups, scientists, and the public for a rulemaking.

In developing the rule, the agencies held more than 400 meetings with stakeholders across the country, reviewed over one million public comments, and listened carefully to perspectives from all sides. EPA and the Army also utilized the latest science, including a report summarizing more than 1,200 peer-reviewed, published scientific studies, which showed that small streams and wetlands play an integral role in the health of larger downstream waterbodies (see: "Scientific review supports new clean water protections under CWR").

Specifically, the CWR achieves the following:

  • Clearly defines and protects tributaries that impact the health of downstream waters: The Clean Water Act protects navigable waterways and their tributaries. The rule states that a tributary must show physical features of flowing water -- a bed, bank and ordinary high water mark -- to warrant protection. The rule provides protection for headwaters that have these features and science shows can have a significant connection to downstream waters.
  • Provides certainty in how far safeguards extend to nearby waters: The CWR protects waters that are next to rivers and lakes and their tributaries because science shows that they impact downstream waters. The rule sets boundaries on covering nearby waters for the first time that are physical and measurable.
  • Protects the nation's regional water treasures: Science shows that specific water features can function like a system and impact the health of downstream waters. The CWR protects prairie potholes, Carolina and Delmarva bays, pocosins, western vernal pools in California, and Texas coastal prairie wetlands when they impact downstream waters.
  • Focuses on streams, not ditches: The rule limits protection to ditches that are constructed out of streams or function like streams and can carry pollution downstream. Therefore, ditches that are not constructed in streams and that flow only when it rains are not covered.
  • Maintains the status of waters within Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems: The CWR does not change how those waters are treated and encourages the use of green infrastructure.
  • Reduces the use of case-specific analysis of waters: Previously, almost any water could be put through a lengthy case-specific analysis, even if it would not be subject to the Clean Water Act. The rule significantly limits the use of case-specific analysis by creating clarity and certainty on protected waters and limiting the number of similarly situated water features.

A Clean Water Act permit is only needed if water is going to be polluted or destroyed. The CWR only protects the types of waters that have historically been covered under the Act. It does not regulate most ditches and does not regulate groundwater, shallow subsurface flows, or tile drains. Further, it does not make changes to current policies on irrigation or water transfers or apply to erosion in a field. The CWR addresses the pollution and destruction of waterways -- not land use or private property rights.

Accordingly, the rule protects clean water necessary for farming, ranching and forestry and provides greater clarity and certainty to farmers about coverage of the Clean Water Act. The final rule specifically recognizes the vital role that U.S. agriculture serves in providing food, fuel and fiber here and around the world; it does not create any new permitting requirements for America's farmers. Activities like planting, harvesting and moving livestock have long been exempt from Clean Water Act regulation, and the CWR preserves those exemptions.

See also:

"NRDC urges Congress to support 'Waters of the U.S.' rule to protect water supplies"

"Thousands supporting clean water submit comments on 'Waters of the U.S.' definition"


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