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EPA May Seek to Expand Its Clean Water Act Jurisdiction

Posted on Mon, Nov 11, 2013 @ 09:44 AM

David J. Schmittby David J. Schmitt

On September 17, 2013, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) released a draft scientific study that links all streams (including intermittent and ephemeral streams), as well as associated wetlands with larger downstream navigable waters that are currently under the agency’s jurisdiction.

The draft study titled “Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters: A Review and Synthesis of the Scientific Evidence” concludes that there is ample evidence that

“All tributary streams, including perennial, intermittent, and ephemeral streams, are physically, chemically, and biologically connected to downstream rivers via channels and associated alluvial deposits where water and other materials are concentrated, mixed, transformed, and transported. Headwater streams (headwaters) are the most abundant stream type in most river networks, and supply most of the water in rivers.”

While this may seem like an esoteric ivory tower topic, it may have a large real world impact. Currently, the jurisdiction (and permitting authority) of the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers (“COE”) extends only to traditional navigable waters, wetlands adjacent to traditional navigable waters, non-navigable, but relatively permanent tributaries of navigable waters that flow year-round or have continuous flow at least three months of the year, and wetlands that directly abut such tributaries.

The EPA commented that the draft study provides the first comprehensive link between headwater streams, which are the most abundant type of streams in the U.S. and downstream navigable waters. The study, now being reviewed by the EPA Science Advisory Board, will serve as the scientific basis for a new rule developed jointly by the EPA and COE to clarify Clean Water Act jurisdiction. Based on the study’s conclusions, the EPA and COE could propose bringing all intermittent and ephemeral streams and all wetlands in flood plains and riparian areas, including those that abut intermittent and ephemeral streams, under federal protection.

If this occurs, it will dramatically enlarge EPA’s and COE’s jurisdiction and permitting authority and could lead to a large increase in the number of construction and other projects required to obtain CWA permits prior to working in these areas.

Companies in the industrial and residential construction sectors, as well as any businesses which anticipate any new construction or site modification activities in the coming years stand the greatest chance of being impacted. Cors & Bassett will continue to monitor the development of the coming proposed rule and will keep its clients abreast of the latest information.

The study itself may be found at:

Tags: Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, Clean Water Act, CWA