The Why and What of the EPA’s New Clean Water Rule

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Army completed the Clean Water Rule, which is focused on protecting the country’s wetlands and streams. In a press release, EPA emphasizes the rule’s balance between meeting increased demand for more effective environmental protection while at the same time preserving traditional farmers’ rights and freedom to their lands.

The Need for Clarity and Development of the Clean Water Rule

In recent years, the Clean Water Act has been criticized for its lack of clarity in defining the bodies of water that fall under its jurisdiction. The Clean Water Rule is the result of requests from government, including Congress, state and local officials. Industry, environmental groups, the public, scientists, and the agricultural industry have also requested clarification of provisions in the Clean Water Act.

According to Assistant Secretary for the Army (Civil Works) Jo-Ellen Darcy, quoted in the press release from the EPA,

“This rule responds to the public’s demand for greater clarity, consistency, and predictability when making jurisdictional determinations.”

Better Environmental Protection in a Changing World

Clean water is a necessity for life, health, and economic growth, and protecting the country’s water resources is increasingly essential. According to the EPA press release, healthy water systems protect communities by “trapping floodwaters, recharging groundwater supplies, filtering pollution, and providing habitat for fish and wildlife.” Climate change threatens water ecosystems through drought, increases in temperature, and a rising sea level.

Healthy water systems benefit a variety of sectors. It is an economic driver for manufacturing, farming, tourism, and recreation. Consider the following.

  • One-third of Americans, or 117 million, depend on small streams for drinking water.
  • 33 million Americans fish each year.
  • 19 million Americans kayak, paddleboard, or canoe each year.
  • 60 percent of America’s streams and wetlands are protected by the Clean Water Act.

Key Components of the Clean Water Rule

The EPA and US Army finalized the Clean Water Rule after holding over 400 meetings with stakeholders nationwide and reviewing over 1 million public comments. The agencies reviewed the scientific literature on environmental impacts related to the role of upstream water sources in the ecosystem and economy.

These are some of the key aspects of the final rule.

  • Clear definitions and protection for tributaries that affect downstream water.
  • Protects the country’s water treasures, such as California vernal pools, Carolina bays, Texas coastal prairie wetlands, and the Great Lakes.
  • Maintains current policies regarding Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems.
  • Focuses on streams that can affect downstream rivers, and not on separate ditches.

Lack of Expansion of Protection

The rule more clearly defines the streams and wetlands that are covered under the Clean Water Act. It does not expand protection to bodies of water that were not previously covered. This leaves the agricultural industry with traditional exemptions such as normal agriculture practices including planting and harvesting, constructing farm and foresting roads, and constructing storm discharge systems. The rule also preserves agricultural rights in the following ways:

  • Exclusion of croplands from requiring permits.
  • Exclusion of artificial lakes, pits of water from manmade activities, and irrigated areas.
  • No change to policy on irrigation or ditch regulation.

RSD Strategies Can Consult on Every Aspect to Make Sure Your Project is Legal

The regulations will go into effect 60 days after their publication in the Federal Register. Until and after that time, RSD Strategies can help you meet the new requirements. We can conduct environmental impact assessments (EIA) and let you know if the new regulations affect your project. With our compliance planning and assistance, we can provide consulting to ensure you are planning your project to be compliant with the new regulations.