EPA submits new WOTUS definition for review

On June 15, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corps of Engineers submitted a new proposed “Waters of the U.S.” (WOTUS) regulatory definition to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review. This is a major step toward rewriting the Obama-era water pollution rule. The WOTUS rule defines which bodies of water are subject to federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act.

The Clean Water Act mainly covers large, navigable waterways like rivers and bays. But the EPA must also protect some upstream waterways that feed into them. The Obama rule centered on the concept that waterways with a “significant nexus” to navigable ones would be regulated. Written in 2015, the original rule was intended to clarify that small waterways like ponds and headwaters can be protected. Agriculture, developers and other industries, however, complained it was too far-reaching. The rewrite is expected to be more industry-friendly.

At Stream + Wetlands Foundation, the concern we have with the delay of an update to the WOTUS definition is that the uncertainties associated with the existing regulations will continue to cause unnecessary confusion for permit applicants. We are hopeful a reasonable WOTUS definition can be achieved soon to help improve predictability for permit applicants and the regulatory agencies.