Changes to the "Waters of the US" rule will reduce protections to up to 50% of wetlands in the US
The EPA just announced the new Waters of the US (WOTUS) rule on Jan. 24, 2020. The US EPA's website for the rule is here. Following is analysis from LWV UMRR, based on reading the rule and comments from other nonprofits. A previous blog post on this website, from April 2019, provides further information on the rule.
The graphic to the left is based on the proposed rule. How the final rule differs from the proposed is described below.
Thanks to Carolyn Mahlum-Jenkins for her work on this article.
What waters are included Clean Water Act protections in the final (WOTUS) rule?
The most significant difference between the proposed rule (described in the April post) and the final rule is the treatment of some waters connected by ephemeral streams. Ephemeral streams are those streams that only last for a short time after precipitation. In the proposed version of the rule, if upstream perennial and intermittent tributaries were connected to a water of the United States by an ephemeral stream, they were not WOTUS. The final rule changes this, and such tributaries are WOTUS if they have a surface water connection to a downstream water of the United States during a normal year. To make a long story short, the final rule protects some bodies of water that the proposed rule left out.
This is the bottom line: clean water is a basic need. With many of our towns and cities still living with unsafe drinking water, now is not the time to cut back on clean water enforcement. We need more - not less - protection for clean water. All of our waters are connected. We cannot allow pollution from mining and manufacturing and large farms into small waterways without it affecting the rest of the water we all depend on. We all know wetlands flow into streams, which flow into small rivers, into bigger rivers, and into lakes, including our Great Lakes, and ultimately the ocean. This rollback will put drinking water at risk for millions of Americans who live in the Great Lakes states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. This rule gives polluters a free pass at the expense of millions of Americans.
Here is additional information on the WOTUS rule from the Water Proetction Network:
Replacement Waters of the US Rule Removes Protections for Half of the Nation's Wetlands, Many Streams, & More
On January 22, the Trump administration unveiled its final Waters of the United States rule - actively opposed by many Water Protection Network members - eliminating Clean Water Act protections for more than half the nation’s wetlands and millions of miles of streams. This rule opens up waters that serve as drinking water sources, critical fish spawning grounds, wildlife habitat, and flood protection to increased risk of pollution and destruction. This goes far beyond simply reversing the 2015 Clean Water Rule, and instead removes protections required by the Clean Water Act since it passed in 1972 – including protections that were in place during both the Bush and Reagan administrations. Among other exclusions, the final rule would end decades of protections for rain-dependent streams, most wetlands, certain ponds and lakes, and interstate waters. This replacement "Waters of the United States" rule follows the October 2019 repeal of the 2015 Clean Water Rule. The final replacement rule has not yet been published in the Federal Register.
Resources & more information:
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