TWS and AFS comment on Clean Water Act rule

By Laura Bies

TWS partnered with AFS to offer comments on the Administration’s proposal to reduce the reach of the Clean Water Act. ©USFWS

The Wildlife Society joined with the American Fisheries Society to submit comments on a recent proposal to redefine “waters of the U.S.,” the phrase that determines whether the Clean Water Act applies to a stream, wetland or other waterway. Earlier this year, the administration released its proposal to reduce the Clean Water Act’s authority over isolated wetlands and other waterways, requesting public comments on the changes.

The proposed rule, developed by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers, would exclude ephemeral streams from the act and reduce the wetlands it covers. Data from the U.S. Geological Survey indicate that the new definition would exclude from the Clean Water Act more than 18% of streams and 51% of wetlands around the country without continuous surface water connections to larger waterways.

The joint comments, which were submitted through AFS, strongly oppose the proposed rule and instead support the 2015 definition of waters of the U.S. The comments point out that the current proposal is not supported by peer-reviewed science and has not been subject to a rigorous independent review process. They also said it “fails to align with the original intent of the Clean Water Act to ‘to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters.’ … The proposed Rule is inconsistent with more than a half century of scientific research that demonstrates that the integrity of ‘traditionally navigable’ waters fundamentally depends on ephemeral, intermittent, and perennial headwater streams, as well as the many associated lakes, wetlands, and off-channel habitats.”

The letter concludes, “The proposed redefinition of WOTUS will make it impossible to achieve the objectives of the Clean Water Act because it excludes numerous waters and wetlands that directly affect the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of primary waters. The loss of protections for our nation’s waters called for in the proposed Rule would have grave consequences for fish and fisheries and would have far-reaching implications for fish, wildlife, and their habitats, as well as the thousands of economies dependent on those systems.”

Several TWS organization units also submitted comments to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the proposal, including the Western Section, the Arkansas Chapter, and San Francisco Bay Area Chapter. These units worked with the expertise of their membership to oppose the proposed rule and detail the impacts it would have to their region.

Read TWS’ comments on the 2015 proposed rule.

Read the brief TWS and partners submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2006 in a Clean Water Act case.

 Read TWS’ Position Statements on Recognition of Wildlife Needs in Watershed Planning and Alterations of Stream, Riparian, and Wetland Habitats in the U.S.

Laura BiesLaura Bies is a government relations contractor and freelance writer for The Wildlife Society. She has a B.S. in Environmental Science and a law degree from George Washington University. Laura has worked with The Wildlife Society since 2005. Read more of Laura's articles.

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