Press Release–Federal Agencies Attempt to Clear Up Clean Water Act Uncertainty


Implications for Illinois waterways not yet known

Yesterday the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) released draft guidance to provide clarification about which water bodies are subject to regulation under the Clean Water Act. The two agencies worked together to develop the new guidance on the regulatory program they both have a hand in implementing. The Act’s goal is to “restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters” by limiting how much pollution can be dumped into waterways.

The EPA has estimated that 1.6 million Illinois residents get their drinking water from waterways whose regulatory status was unclear. “This guidance is a welcome development. In Illinois, over half of our small streams and 150,000 acres of wetlands have been at risk for uncontrolled pollution and filling because of unclear rules. We’re not sure yet how the new guidance will change these numbers, but it looks to be a step in the right direction” said Glynnis Collins, Executive Director of Prairie Rivers Network, Illinois’ statewide river conservation organization. “We hope that the new guidance will lead to better protection of our drinking water and of the other essential services like flood protection and filtering pollution that our rivers, lakes, and wetlands provide Illinoisans.”

Since 1972 EPA and the Corps have enforced the Clean Water Act on “waters of the United States” until Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 created widespread uncertainty on the part of regulators and the regulated community about when water pollution must be authorized by a Clean Water Act permit.

The issue’s profile has risen in Washington DC during recent budget battles.  The House budget bill would have prevented federal agencies from taking the action announced yesterday, but the Senate refused to agree.

The draft guidance is on notice for a 60-day public comment period. It can be viewed here.  

According to Collins, “People should let their lawmakers know that they support protections for clean water – that we don’t want industry to have a pass to pollute what belongs to all of us, and is a vital foundation of our well being.”

Collins adds, “We shouldn’t forget Springfield either. States have broader authority than the federal government, and Illinois could drastically improve the health and safety of our waters by adopting rules and standards that are tougher than federal requirements; those rules could apply to all waters of the state too.”


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