EPA to Redefine Waters of the United States, Significantly Altering Clean Water Act

On Wednesday, the EPA officially announced its intent to revise the definition of “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) to provide more protection under the Clean Water Act. WOTUS are bodies of water within the United States that are regulated by the government. This can include rivers, ocean, lakes, streams, ditches, ponds, and creeks. 

The Clean Water Act prohibits the discharge of pollutants from a point source to navigable waters unless otherwise authorized under the Act. Entities are required to obtain a permit for the amount of pollutants they allow to enter these waters, including stormwater that merely travels through a property. Lawsuits are frequently filed alleging that entities allowed too many pollutants into the water and breached the Clean Water Act. 

This announcement comes in the wake of a revision made in April of last year by the Trump administration, which scaled back what they argued was an overreach in an attempt to promote economic growth, resulting in a 25 percent reduction in unprotected waters. While this revision may have potential economic effects, the EPA said that the Biden administration believes that the present change is in the best interest of the country in regards to public health and environmental protection.

The press release explained that farmers have petitioned against this more extensive water protection act since its original inception during the Obama administration, citing their reduced access to water on or neighboring their land. However, this new press release stated that it plans to shape this bill based on lived experience of local communities, as well as a wide variety of stakeholders that include states, Tribes, local governments, scientists, and non-governmental organizations. The release frequently stressed this effort, claiming that this will not be a reinstatement of old regulations but a new, more collaborative conservation effort.