A Big Fight Over Waters in the U.S. Is Heating Up

These are the kinds of ecosystems at risk with this proposed revision.
Photo: AP

The Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers published the proposed text on Tuesday for how they want to define the “waters of the United States,” or WOTUS. This means changing the definition former President Barack Obama put forth when he expanded the WOTUS rule in 2015 to help protect more waters under the Clean Water Act.

And of course, President Donald Trump’s homies want to minimize the level of protection on our waters. This move was expected. Trump signed an executive order in February 2017 asking for a revision to the WOTUS rule. We didn’t know then what exactly this revision would look like, but turns out it’s not far from what we could’ve imagined.


The federal government wants states and tribal governments to be more involved, apparently, so it’s proposed to give them jurisdiction over groundwater, streams that fill with water during the rain, roadside and farm ditches, wetlands that aren’t directly connected to other waterways, wastewater treatment systems, and stormwater control features.

Lakes, streams, and ponds will stay under the federal government’s watch, but these smaller waterways need attention too, opponents argue.

Look at all these old white men tearing down our protections as Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler signs this proposal.
Photo: AP

They’re worried about what can happen to people’s drinking water as a result of this proposed rule. Environmentalists argue that these small, disconnected wetlands and streams provide much of the drinking water in the U.S. If this text is finalized, the agricultural sector, as well as other industry giants, will be able to do as they please on land near these waters—even if rain and runoff can help move pollutants (like pesticides) downstream into larger water bodies and eventually peoples taps.


“Big polluters could not have crafted a bigger free pass to dump if they wrote it themselves,” said Blan Holman, managing attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center’s (SELC) Charleston office, in a statement.

Trump’s goonies are using money as an excuse for this proposed revision, citing cost savings, but industry has likely played a major role: The EPA held several conversations with stakeholders like the agriculture, construction, and mining industries before publishing the text on Tuesday. The American Farm Bureau Federation is applauding the proposal, noting the heavy regulatory burden it placed on farmers around the country.


Once the EPA and Army Corps publish the formal text on the Federal Register, the public will have 60 days to comment. Then, the agencies can move to finalize it. Before then, though, they’ll have to deal with groups like the SELC that have already pledged to sue. This fight’s only getting started.

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About the author

Yessenia Funes

Senior staff writer, Earther. The one who "pulls the race card" in the name of environmental justice. You dig?

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