Clean Water Act Protections

The Waters of the United States rule affects every tributary of every stream related to an external drainage system, including wetlands, in the whole US. 
I don’t see how EPA can roll it back — at least not without submitting the proposal to review it to public comment! 
 
The rule was created by EPA AND the Army Corpse after the Supreme Court Rapanos decision, which required a full definition of the “Waters of the United States” to include the doctrine of “significant nexus,” which means that a water body had to have some relationship to a navigable water system. The drafts of this rule were openly circulated and reviewed and commented on from 2013 to 2015, and it should not be re-reviewed or rewritten until it has a chance to be fully tested – 5 years at least. The rule does not apply to ditches, and it does not do away with the system of permits that farmers can apply for under a wide range of circumstances, for disposal of some runoff types. I listened to one of the online seminars, which fielded hostile questions from farmers, which were driven by the attitude that “nobody in government should be able to tell me what to do on my land”… even if it could damage other waters or downstream lands.  
We have to weigh in on this, because it is certainly needed to address the huge volume of pollution that drains from central-states farms into the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, and create dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico. It will certainly bear on water quality in California streams, lakes, and wetlands, and any coastal waters and lands that they drain into.
I wrote a comment letter on this for SCWC in 2014, and am happy that one of the issues we raised (see the 3rd bullet below) did get enough support to be included. I did not like the limitation of the significant nexus rule, which makes sumps out of internal drainages (of which the western states have many), but protects many important wetlands in areas that have nexus to external drainages. This includes the Laguna de Santa Rosa
Sonoma County groups need to quickly prepare a letter defending this rule (and Clean Water rules in general), to try to derail this attempt to muddy the waters once again. Literally.
 
Jane
From the EPA website:
What the Clean Water Rule Does

EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers finalized the Clean Water Rule to clearly protect the streams and wetlands that form the foundation of the nation’s water resources. 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. The Clean Water Rule ensures that waters protected under the Clean Water Act are more precisely defined, more predictably determined, and easier for businesses and industry to understand. Specifically, the Clean Water Rule:

  • Clearly defines and protects tributaries that impact the health of downstream waters. The Clean Water Act protects navigable waterways and their tributaries. The rule says 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 rule 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 rule 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. So 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 rule 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.

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