Waters of the U.S. Action Center
Waters of the United States (WOTUS) is a term used in the Clean Water Act (CWA) to determine which waters and their conveyances fall under federal and state permitting authority.
Public Comment Writing Guide
Review NACo's writing guide as you begin drafting your county's public comment.
WOTUS's Impact on Your County
Share how your county has implemented the different WOTUS rules and how the pre-2015 rules will impact your county.
NACo's Public Comments
Review the public comments NACo has submitted to the EPA and Corps in the past on WOTUS. These public comments range from November 2013 to April 2019.
Waters of the U.S. Regulatory Update
Sep. 15, 2021
NACo staff provide a regulatory update on WOTUS. Public comments on the WOTUS rule are due October 4.
Quick History on WOTUS
- In the 1980s, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) defined WOTUS to include, among other things, all waters and wetlands the use, degradation, or destruction of which could affect interstate or foreign commerce.
- In 1985, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld “adjacent wetlands” in the United States v. Riverside Bayview Homes.
- In 2001, the Supreme Court heard Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (SWANCC). This case does not confer federal jurisdiction over isolated waters because they provide habitat for migratory birds.
- In 2006, the Supreme Court heard Rapanos v. United States, which argued that WOTUS encompasses “relatively permanent, standing or continuously flowing bodies of water,” such as streams, rivers, or lakes and wetlands that have a “continuous surface connection” to waters subject to the CWA. Furthermore, the wetlands with a “significant nexus” to traditionally navigable waters were also deemed under federal jurisdiction.
- In 2015, the Obama Administration finalized a new and controversial WOTUS definition which was immediately challenged in the courts. This left the pre-2015 WOTUS rule in effect in 28 states and the 2015 WOTUS rule was the law of the land in 22 states until April 2020.
- The Trump Administration repealed and replaced the 2015 rule and released its definition of WOTUS within the Navigable Waters Protection Rule (NWPR) in January 2020, more than two years after an Executive Order (EO) was issued to withdraw and rewrite the 2015 rule. In response to the proposed 2020 rule, NACo submitted comments detailing the rule’s potential impact on counties and offering recommendations.
- In January 2021, President Biden signed EO 13990, which triggered a review of the 2020 rule to uphold a campaign promise of repealing and replacing the 2020 rule. On June 9, 2021, the EPA and the Corps announced their intent to initiate a new two-step rulemaking process.
- On August 30, 2021, the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona vacated and remanded the NWPR in the case Pasqua Yaqui Tribe v. United States Environmental Protection Agency. Due to the Court's decision, the EPA and Army Corps are interpreting WOTUS consistent with the pre-2015 regulatory regime until further notice.
Where We are Today
The first rulemaking is to repeal and replace the NWPR and re-implement the pre-2015 WOTUS rules, including the Supreme Court decisions. The second rulemaking is to craft a durable definition based on Supreme Court precedent and drawing from the lessons learned from the current and previous regulations.
- For more information on the first rulemaking, please click here.
The comment period for counties for the first rulemaking is currently open through October 4. As an intergovermental partner representing counties as owners of local infrastructure, co-regulators and stewards of the environment, NACo will submit comments advocating for county priorities in the rulemaking process.
- To see the letter from the EPA extending the comment period for counties and other federalism partners, please click here.
- To submit your comments directly to the EPA and Army Corps, please email CWAwotus@epa.gov and email@example.com.
County-owned infrastructure potentially impacted by WOTUS designations
The WOTUS definition directly impacts local governments as owners and operators of local infrastructure. Counties own and operate public safety water conveyances, stormwater municipal separate storm water sewer systems (MS4), green infrastructure construction and maintenance projects, water reuse and infrastructure, and emergency management readiness. Depending on the final definition of WOTUS, counties may need to apply for a federal permit to maintain or build new infrastructure projects.
- Public Safety Water Conveyances: Roads and roadside ditches, flood control channels, drainage conveyances, culverts, etc.
- Stormwater Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems (MS4): Comprised of channels, ditches and pipes
- Green Infrastructure Construction and Maintenance Projects: Includes but is not limited to low-impact development projects (LID), bioswales, vegetative buffers, constructed wetlands, stormwater detention ponds, etc.
- Drinking Water Facilities and Infrastructure Reservoirs, dams, ponds, canals, large water transport systems (Central Arizona Project, California Aqueduct, Colorado River Aqueduct, etc.)
- Water Reuse and Infrastructure: Includes facilities built to generate additional water supply, their ponds, recharge basins, canals and ditches.