Waters of the US

A few months ago the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), together with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, took action to protect our precious water resources.

Many of us have fond memories of playing at our neighborhood pond or taking a swim in the local river. We remember the unspoiled wetlands and streams where our parents took us hunting and fishing as kids. We value our deep-rooted ties to the lakes and rivers that shape where we grew up and where we live. Our waters define who we are as people and as a nation.

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But water doesn't just nourish our people -- it sustains a strong American economy. Businesses big and small all depend on clean water.  Without Clean Water Act protections, there's nothing stopping sewage, toxic chemicals, and other harmful pollutants from threatening our health and economy. 

But over the last decade, the Clean Water Act has been bogged down by confusion. Two complex court decisions narrowed legal protections and muddled everyone's understanding of what waters are -- or are not -- covered under the law. Protections have been especially confusing for smaller, vital interconnected streams and wetlands. Our proposal clarifies protection for these waters. It does not expand the waters covered, but rather cuts red tape by making clear which waters are protected, and which are not.

As always, normal farming, silviculture, and ranching activities do not require a permit. It’s that simple. And EPA worked closely with the Natural Resource Conservation Service to make sure that conservation practices are encouraged, not deterred.

I’d also like to clear up some confusion about what’s not covered under our proposal. Your rain gutters, your wet lawn, your groundwater, your ditches in drylands, your tile drains, or any new categories of waters—this proposal doesn’t touch them. It’s designed to make the Clean Water Act work better for all of us, including agriculture.

The American Sustainable Business Council has supported the efforts made to strengthen protections for water under the Clean Water Act. Richard Eidlin, the council's co-founder and policy director said “American business has always depended on the availability of clean water for its success, and EPA’s regulation in this area historically has been a prime example of the vital partnership between business and government.”

The Latin Business Association and the 800,000 Latino-owned businesses that make up the organization understand that the rule simply makes sense and have also expressed support. Business depends on certainty – whether you are selling watermelons or widgets. This rule provides certainty for businesses that need to know where the reach of the law begins and ends, and that the source of their water supplies will be protected.

Clean water and successful businesses go hand in hand. Business leaders across the country have praised EPA’s continued devotion to ensuring clean water for all Americans.  For example, last month 72 small business owners in Maryland signed a letter that expressed support for our proposal because of the importance of water to their operations and the communities where they are located.

In the end,  the increased clarity will save us time, keep money in our pockets, cut red tape, give certainty to business, and help protect this resource that American businesses depend on.

Stoner is acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Water.