Waters of the US (WOTUS)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers finalized a rule in June 2015 that significantly expanded the definition of “waters of the United States,” also known as “navigable waters,” under the Clean Water Act. WOTUS would vastly expand EPA’s and the Corps’ regulatory authority beyond the limits approved by Congress and affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court. The rule was challenged in court by dozens of state, municipal, industry and environmental organizations. It was quickly blocked by the federal courts based on its legal flaws and the harm it threatened to cause, and was never implemented nationwide.

The WOTUS rule grants the federal government regulatory control over virtually any waters – and many land areas that only temporarily hold water – assuming a scope of authority Congress never authorized. The rule effectively eliminates any constraints the term “navigable” previously imposed on the Corps’ and EPA’s CWA jurisdiction. Few, if any, waters would fall outside of federal control. The rule’s overbroad and vague terms would allow EPA and the Corps to regulate any or all waters found within a state, no matter how small or seemingly unconnected to true “navigable waters.”  It creates confusion and risk by giving the agencies almost unlimited authority to regulate, at their discretion, any low spot where rainwater collects, including common farm ditches, ephemeral drainages, agricultural ponds and isolated wetlands found in and near farms and ranches across the nation.