Dec 12, 2018

EPA Proposes New WOTUS Definition

The proposal will have a 60 day comment period

EPA proposes revision to the waters of the US rule
EPA proposes revision to the waters of the US rule

On Dec. 11, the U.S. EPA and the Department of the Army proposed a new definition of “waters of the United States,” or WOTUS. The proposed definition differs from the Obama administration’s 2015 definition and is facing backlash from environmentalists, as reported by USA Today.

Under the new proposed definition navigable waters, tributaries to those waters, impoundments of jurisdictional waters and wetlands adjacent to jurisdictional waters would be federally regulated, according to EPA. However, ephemeral waters, groundwater, many ditches, storm water features and wastewater treatment systems would not be regulated.

“Our proposal would replace the Obama EPA’s 2015 definition with one that respects the limits of the Clean Water Act and provides states and landowners the certainty they need to manage their natural resources and grow local economies,” said EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler.

The proposal would roll back protections of wetlands not adjacent to jurisdictional waters as well as ephemeral waters, a contested issue among environmentalists. According to NPR, a study by the EPA under President Obama found that nearly 60% of all U.S. waterways and 81% in the Southwest are ephemeral or flow seasonally.

“The proposal is reckless,” said the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Jon Devine in a statement. “Given the problems facing our lakes, streams and wetlands from the beaches of Florida to the drinking water of Toledo, now is the time to strengthen protections for our waterways, not weaken them.”

The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit, argued that smaller water bodies flow into larger bodies and have the potential to impact drinking water.

“Even a child understands that small streams flow into large streams and lakes, which provide drinking water for so many Americans,” said Craig Cox, EWG’s senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources.

The Trump administration has said the new rules provide clarity and would enable farmers and landowners to use their property without the need for legal assistance in defining waterways. The agencies will take comment on the proposal for 60 days after publication in the Federal Register. Several lawsuits from environmental groups are expected to be filed against the rule.  

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