EPA releases Clean Water Act update

On May 27, 2015, the Obama Administration released an update to the Clean Water Act called the Clean Water Rule or the Waters of the U.S. Rule. The rule will better protect water quality, aquatic life and clean drinking water for 1 in 5 Minnesotans by more clearly outlining which streams, lakes and wetlands are protected under the Clean Water Act.

FMR has been working in coalition with many other state and national environmental organizations to support this update and are pleased that the final rule has been released.

The clarification outlines which waters are protected under the Clean Water Act. This is necessary after 2001 and 2006 Supreme Court cases muddied the waters around which waterways the EPA had jurisdiction over. This confusion has led to longer permitting timelines and more paperwork to prove jurisdiction over waters. These same waters clearly fall under EPA jurisdiction because of their chemical, physical and biological connection to our larger waterways and must be protected.

The rule will improve permitting efficiency and predictability and reduce the timeline and cost for permitting in part because this clarification will allow the Corps and EPA to spend less time proving jurisdiction and more time working with the public to find ways to protect and improve Minnesota’s waterways.

According to FMR executive director Whitney Clark, the new rule is especially important for the Mississippi River “Our streams, lakes and wetlands provide many important environmental benefits including filtering pollution, providing habitat for fish and wildlife, recharging our groundwater supply and helping to mitigate flood damage. All of these benefits are becoming increasingly important as we experience more extreme weather in Minnesota.”

Despite the significant benefits of this rule to Minnesota and all U.S. waters, great opposition is expected from polluters. It is important for everyone to understand that the rule only protects the types of waters that have historically been covered under the Clean Water Act and all previous exemptions and exclusions are preserved. The new rule also provides greater certainty for farmers while maintaining exemptions for agricultural activities like planting, drainage and harvesting.

FMR looks forward to working with Minnesotans to help ensure the rule is fully implemented and our waters are protected.