EPA Clean Water Rule finalized

I still see EPA’s new Clean Water Rule as a good thing, since it protects drinking water, paddling, and fishing, while opponents remain quite vague about what might be wrong with it.

After last year’s comment period, U.S. EPA has posted a prepublication version of its final Clean Water Rule.

Katie Shepherd, L.A. Times, 27 May 2015, Under new EPA rule, Clean Water Act protections will cover all active tributaries,

Environmental groups applauded the changes, which have been opposed by farm groups, land developers and others who warned they would extend federal regulations onto inland wetlands and ponds that go well beyond the traditional scope of federal oversight.

“President Obama heeded the call of sound science and public input in finalizing this rule,” Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth, an environmental advocacy group, said in a statement.

The Sierra Club also backed the new rule. “We think this is an easy decision for anyone who is not in the pocket of big polluters,” Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement.

Here’s the press release of 27 May 2015, Clean Water Rule Protects Streams and Wetlands Critical to Public Health, Communities, and Economy,

Washington — In an historic step for the protection of clean water, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army finalized the Clean Water Rule today to clearly protect from pollution and degradation the streams and wetlands that form the foundation of the nation’s water resources.

The rule ensures that waters protected under the Clean Water Act are more precisely defined and predictably determined, making permitting less costly, easier, and faster for businesses and industry. The rule is grounded in law and the latest science, and is shaped by public input. The rule does not create any new permitting requirements for agriculture and maintains all previous exemptions and exclusions.

“For the water in the rivers and lakes in our communities that flow to our drinking water to be clean, the streams and wetlands that feed them need to be clean too,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “Protecting our water sources is a critical component of adapting to climate change impacts like drought, sea level rise, stronger storms, and warmer temperatures — which is why EPA and the Army have finalized the Clean Water Rule to protect these important waters, so we can strengthen our economy and provide certainty to American businesses.”

“Today’s rule marks the beginning of a new era in the history of the Clean Water Act,” said Assistant Secretary for the Army (Civil Works) Jo-Ellen Darcy. “This is a generational rule and completes another chapter in history of the Clean Water Act. This rule responds to the public’s demand for greater clarity, consistency, and predictability when making jurisdictional determinations. The result will be better public service nationwide.”

People need clean water for their health: About 117 million Americans — one in three people — get drinking water from streams that lacked clear protection before the Clean Water Rule. America’s cherished way of life depends on clean water, as healthy ecosystems provide wildlife habitat and places to fish, paddle, surf, and swim. Clean and reliable water is an economic driver, including for manufacturing, farming, tourism, recreation, and energy production. The health of our rivers, lakes, bays, and coastal waters are impacted by the streams and wetlands where they begin.

Protection for many of the nation’s streams and wetlands has been confusing, complex, and time-consuming as the result of Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006. EPA and the Army are taking this action today to provide clarity on protections under the Clean Water Act after receiving requests for over a decade from members of Congress, state and local officials, industry, agriculture, environmental groups, scientists, and the public for a rulemaking.

In developing the rule, the agencies held more than 400 meetings with stakeholders across the country, reviewed over one million public comments, and listened carefully to perspectives from all sides. EPA and the Army also utilized the latest science, including a report summarizing more than 1,200 peer-reviewed, published scientific studies which showed that small streams and wetlands play an integral role in the health of larger downstream water bodies.

Climate change makes protection of water resources even more essential. Streams and wetlands provide many benefits to communities by trapping floodwaters, recharging groundwater supplies, filtering pollution, and providing habitat for fish and wildlife. Impacts from climate change like drought, sea level rise, stronger storms, and warmer temperatures threaten the quantity and quality of America’s water. Protecting streams and wetlands will improve our nation’s resilience to climate change.

Specifically, the Clean Water Rule:

The press release goes into more detail, then concludes:

The Clean Water Rule will be effective 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.

Here’s the actual final rule and related documents such as definitions, a technical support document, and an economic analysis.

That last document notes:

The agencies made the following key changes from the proposed rule:
  • Tributaries — The final rule removes wetlands and other waters lacking bed/bank and ordinary high water mark from definition — moves to adjacency;
  • Adjacent waters — The final rule revises the definition for “neighboring” by establishing distance limits;
  • The final rule eliminates the “other waters” category by clarifying jurisdiction over isolated waters, but not asserting jurisdiction by rule. It also identifies 5 specific subregions which are assumed to be similarly situated for purposes of conducting a casespecific significant nexus analysis;
  • The final rule allows for case-specific analysis for all waters within 4,000 feet of an ordinary high water mark or high tide line of a covered tributary, impoundment, traditional navigable water, interstate water, or territorial sea and all waters within the 100-year floodplain of a traditional navigable water, interstate water, or territorial sea, whichever is broader;
  • The final rule refines proposed exclusions and adds features that were not previously excluded (e.g., water distributary systems);
  • The final rule redefines excluded ditches.

So wastewater systems such as Valdosta’s are not covered, but the streams they empty into are. And while the traditional status of WWALS’ rivers may be debatable, they are all tributaries of the traditionally navigable Suwannee River, so presumably all our rivers and creeks are covered, presumably plus many of our larger lakes, ponds, and swamps such as Banks Lake and Grand Bay. While the rule is about surface waters, cleaner surface waters will keep our drinking water in our Floridan Aquifer cleaner.

EPA provides an infographic, which includes these points:

19 million people per year go paddling, spending $86 billion on gear and trips.

Fishing adds $48 billion to the economy every year, and supports nearly a million jobs.