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Waters of the United States

Please note: As a result of a federal court ruling on August 16, 2018, the Obama administration’s 2015 “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule—which defines federal environmental permitting jurisdiction involving wetlands—is now in effect in 26 states (listed below). Project proponents in areas where the 2015 rule is in effect may have questions about what waters are jurisdictional moving forward. AGC of America published an in-depth look at the 2015 WOTUS rule when it was finalized. This is a developing issue and several cases challenging the merits of the 2015 rule are working their way through the district courts.  Check back for more details.

On August 16, 2018, the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina issued a ruling blocking a regulatory attempt by the Trump administration to delay enforcement of the 2015 Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule until 2020. Earlier this year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a rule to allow more time for the agencies to repeal and replace the 2015 WOTUS rule. Despite this court’s ruling, twenty-four states have injunctions that remain in effect and halt enforcement of the 2015 WOTUS rule within their borders.

The 26 states where the 2015 WOTUS rule is now in effect are: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.

At one time, wetlands were thought of as wastelands. However today, there is a much greater understanding of the roles wetlands play in our ecosystems. Wetlands help maintain water quality by slowly filtering excess nutrients, sediments, and pollutants before water seeps into the nation's rivers, streams and underground aquifers. They offer a breeding ground and/or habitat for fish, wildlife, and plants. The EPA estimates that more than one-third of the United States' threatened and endangered species live only in wetlands and nearly half use wetlands at some point in their lives.

The CICA Wetlands section contains useful features that will help you understand the regulations and find out how to comply. Also, there are links to related resources. Here's what is available:

Follow the links on Other Resources to find out more about the various types of wetlands found in the U.S. and their environmental significance.

On March 25, 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps) jointly released a proposed rule to clarify protection under the Clean Water Act for streams and wetlands that form the foundation of the nation’s water resources.

Specifically, the proposed rule clarifies that under the Clean Water Act and based on the science:

  • Most seasonal and rain dependent streams are protected.
  • Wetlands near rivers and streams are protected.
  • Other types of waters may have more uncertain connections with downstream water and protection will be evaluated through a case specific analysis of whether the connection is or is not protecting similarly situated waters in certain geographic areas or adding to the categories of waters protected without case specific analysis


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