Burdensome federal regulations often delay or prohibit American businesses from investing in infrastructure or land development projects that will create jobs, grow crops, and improve how we manage our natural resources. Upon taking office, President Trump initiated a process to review and replace these regulatory barriers, which included the Obama Administration’s 2015 “waters of the United States” definition.

EPA Regional Administrator Chris Hladick

Chris Hladick

Under the 2015 definition, farmers, landowners and businesses are spending too much time and money trying to determine whether waters on their land are “waters of the United States” and subject to federal regulation under the Clean Water Act. In some cases, they pay consultants or lawyers thousands of dollars only to discover that they need federal permits that cover isolated ponds, channels that only flow after it rains, and wetlands far removed from the navigable waters the Clean Water Act was specifically designed to regulate.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of the Army (Army) are delivering on the President’s agenda by proposing a new definition for waters of the U.S. The agencies’ proposal would end years of uncertainty over where federal jurisdiction begins and ends. It would clarify the role of our state and tribal partners — those closest to and most knowledgeable about their own waters — and help them more effectively manage their land and water resources. Our new proposal would make it easier to understand where the Clean Water Act applies — and where it doesn’t.

Under the proposal, traditional navigable waters, tributaries, certain lakes and ponds, impoundments of jurisdictional waters, wetlands adjacent to jurisdictional waters, and certain ditches, such as those used for navigation or those affected by the tide, would be federally regulated. More importantly, many ditches, including most roadside or farm ditches, would be excluded from federal regulation. Ephemeral streams — those that only flow after it rains — would also not qualify as waters of the United States.

Right now, because of litigation, the 2015 definition is in effect in 22 states, while the previous regulations, issued in the 1980s, are in effect in the remaining 28 states. This unpredictable, regulatory patchwork will not continue under the Trump Administration.

Going forward, our new definition would establish national consistency and would rebalance the relationship between the federal government and states. States already have regulations for waters within their borders, regardless of whether they are federally regulated. The combination of the agencies’ proposal and state regulations would continue to provide coverage for the nation’s water resources as intended by Congress when it passed the Clean Water Act over 45 years ago.

President Trump understands that we can have clean air, clean water, and a strong economy. By providing greater regulatory certainty to states and the regulated community, our proposed definition will streamline and accelerate important projects throughout the nation. This means that hardworking Americans will spend less time and money determining whether they need a federal permit and more time growing crops, building homes, modernizing infrastructure, creating jobs, and improving the lives of their fellow citizens.

Chris Hladick is the EPA’s regional administrator in Seattle.

Recommended for you