Protecting our Nation’s Water Resources
Waters of the United States (WOTUS)
Lake Pend Oreille | Pend Oreille River
WOTUS in Danger
On January 23, 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of the Army (Army) finalized the Navigable Waters Protection Rule (NWPR) to define “waters of the United States” (WOTUS). For the first time, the agencies are narrowing the definition of WOTUS so that it includes only four categories of jurisdictional waters and ignores waterways that are critical for drinking water, fisheries, recreation, and more. Instead, this rule only focuses on protecting large, commercially navigable waters, the territorial seas, and their main surface tributaries.
This new regulation undoes vital protections that have been in place for over 40 years. Waterways within the definition will be protected as “Waters of the US” and all other waterways will not be. This means that they will be susceptible to dumping of toxic chemicals, radioactive waste, sewage, and other pollutants that can threaten public health and wildlife. Both the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act were violated by the EPA and the Army in order to comply with Trump’s executive order to review the rule defining which waters deserve Clean Water Act Protections.
The new Navigable Water Protection Rule, or “Dirty Water Rule”, eliminates protections for:
- Interstate waters that cross state boundaries
- Ephemeral rivers, streams, and canals (waterways that only flow after a rain or snow storm)
- Waterways that do not connect to or contribute to commercially navigable waters via surface flow in a “typical year”
- Wetlands that do not physically touch or become flooded by protected waterways
Millions of miles of rivers and streams in the US and at least 51% of wetlands could lose protection. Water does not obey state lines or arbitrary boundaries, it goes where it wants. Watersheds are vast areas of land that are in need of constant and consistent protection from polluters and misusers. Additionally, streams, both year-round and seasonal, are necessary for a wide array of ecological purposes – such as diversity of vegetation and wildlife, habitat, nutrient storage and cycling, and water supply and filtration.
The agencies claim that this rule will be beneficial to farmers, landowners, and businesses who argued the prior definition of WOTUS was too vague and made it difficult for them to maintain normal operations. This rule is not backed by science and instead lets irresponsible individuals and corporations pollute waterways with toxins that will eventually wash downstream to larger bodies of water.
In April 2020, the NWPR was finalized by the EPA and the Army and became effective in June 2020. However, groups and agenices around the US are still fighting back and urging newly elected President Biden to review this rule and restore the 2015 definition of WOTUS.
Impacts in our watershed
According to a study done by Trout Unlimited, an estimated additional 1.4 miles of unmapped ephemeral streams exist for every mile of mapped stream in the Lake Pend Oreille basin. And in the USGS High Resolution National Hydrography Dataset, there are 1,726 miles of mapped streams in our basin.
This would amount to approximately 2,416 miles of ephemeral streams in the Lake Pend Oreille watershed.
Under this new rule, these streams could become polluted and then eventually drain into our lake, bringing with them fertilizers, pesticides, and other toxins to our pristine lake. Protecting the chemical, physical, and biological makeup of our water is absolutely critical to human health and any reduction in the oversight of such a valuable resource is irresponsible and will be problematic for years to come.
Actions against new ruling
On February 18, 2020, conservation groups, including our parent organization, WATERKEEPER Alliance, announced a formal notice of intent to sue the Trump administration for eliminating longstanding Clean Water Act protections for US waterways.
In 2019, LPOW signed on to the comment letter that the Waterkeeper Alliance filed on behalf of 92 Waterkeepers opposing the proposed rulemaking to repeal the Clean Water Rule and replace it with a “regulatory framework” that would reduce Clean Water Act protections for our nation’s waters, including Lake Pend Oreille and its associated waterways.
Did you know?
“Healthy watersheds substantially affect the quality of life for people and the environment overall – often by performing ‘free work’ that communities do not have to do, or pay for, themselves.
The beneficial roles of watersheds in healthy condition can be surprisingly far-reaching and include ecosystem services, economic benefits and physical and mental health benefits.” EPA
As a member of the international WATERKEEPER® Alliance, Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper’s mission is to advocate for clean water within the Clark Fork & Pend Oreille watershed of north Idaho. We are deeply concerned and upset at the recent decisions made by our...
Stand Up for Clean Water – Trout Unlimited
Page with easy to fill out message forms for your local representatives, interactive map of the US waters, information about the Clean Water Act, and the implications of the new EPA rule.
Navigable Waters Protection Rule – EPA
Official website of the new EPA rule, including information about the rulemaking process, the history of the WOTUS, and FAQs.
Clean Water Rule – Federal Register
The official 2015 rule that defines the Waters of the United States, released by the EPA and the Engineers Corps.
Navigable Waters Protection Rule – WATERKEEPER Alliance
Article from our parent organization regarding the guaranteed widespread pollution of our nation’s waters as a result of the new rule.
Waters of the US – American Fisheries Society
Information and significance of protecting our nation’s headwaters and wetlands for fish, wildlife, and their habitat.
Significance of Ephemeral and Intermittent Streams – 2018 Study by the EPA
Report done by the EPA that studies the ecological and hydrological significance of ephemeral and intermittent streams in the arid and semi-arid American southwest. The study includes critical information about the importance of seasonal streams in the environment and for our communities.
Our efforts to track wastewater pollution are supported by generous community funding and volunteer citizen scientists.
Become a Citizen Scientist!
Become a trained citizen scientist. Collecting water samples is a great way to enjoy time on the water & get involved in active stewardship of our local waterways!