Clean Water Organizational Sign on Letter to EPA

Nearly 100 groups call on EPA to strengthen clean water protections.

Clean water

Nearly 100 groups call on EPA to strengthen clean water protections

The Honorable Michael Regan


U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.

Washington, DC 20460

Mail Code 1101A

Michael Connor

Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works

Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works)

108 Army Pentagon

Washington, DC 20310-0108

Dear Administrator Regan and Assistant Secretary Connor:

On behalf of our organizations’ members and supporters, we call on you to act quickly to restore federal clean water protections as you revise the definition of “Waters of the United States”.

The kinds of waters at risk of being denied federal protection are enormously valuable. Headwaters and ephemeral and intermittent streams help provide drinking water to millions of people, support fish and estuaries prized for angling and recreation, and feed our most beloved rivers, lakes, and bays. Wetlands filter out pollutants, protect communities from flooding, and provide habitat for wildlife. In short, protecting these waterways is essential to the Clean Water Act’s core purpose — “to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the nation’s waters.” 

Moreover, protecting these waters promotes the administration’s priorities of addressing climate change and environmental justice. As climate change drives more severe storms, wetlands’ flood protection will become even more vital. And as climate change intensifies drought, more of our streams are less likely to run year-round. Preserving wetlands and streams for communities already overburdened by pollution and flooding should be viewed as an environmental justice imperative.

While your agencies’ current guidance of protecting those waters that had been covered prior to 2015 is significantly better than the recklessly limited coverage of the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, it is still inadequate to ensure clean water across the country. The EPA and Army Corps must therefore move promptly towards replacing it and adopting strong federal clean water protections that are rooted in science and consistent with the objective of the Clean Water Act to protect streams, wetlands, and lakes that our families and communities rely on.

Given the extensive prior record on the definition of waters protected under the Clean Water Act — including widespread public comment– the agency has all the tools it needs to complete the replacement process by the end of this year.

In order to ensure a new definition of  “Waters of the United States” fulfills the promise of the Clean Water Act, the following are some of the key topics to implementing the Clean Water Act consistent with the Act’s objective, in protecting families and communities, and in allowing businesses to thrive:

The scope of jurisdictional tributaries- In defining jurisdictional tributaries, the agencies should protect the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the rivers, streams, lakes, and other waters that are tributaries to interstate waters, traditional navigable waters, impoundments, territorial seas, and other waters of the United States.

The scope of adjacency- The rule must protect wetlands adjacent to other “waters of the United States” and the agencies should use their expertise and the latest science on hydrologic and functional  connectivity in doing so.

Science- We need regulatory standards that are rooted in science and protective of the interconnected streams, wetlands, and other waters that are so vital to our communities and ecosystems. Establishing a sound, consistent, scientifically supported and clear definition of “waters of the United States” is a critical component of lawfully implementing the Clean Water Act.

Environmental justice interests- An unduly restrictive definition of “waters of the United States” disproportionately harms environmental justice communities. EPA has provided guidance to its rule-writers on how to incorporate environmental justice, noting in internal guidance that “it is critical that EPA rule-writers consider environmental justice (EJ) when developing a regulation.” 

Climate implications- Climate change must be factored into any new definition of “waters of the United States.” Nearly half of the river and stream miles in this country are already biologically impaired, and the effects of climate change will exacerbate these impairments unless greater protections are implemented. Climate change dictates the broad protection of all waters, without exclusion. 

In this 50th year of the Clean Water Act, we call on you to promptly restore federal clean water protections and then strengthen protections in a second rule making to adequately safeguard America’s waterways.