The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of the Army (Army) have announced plans for upcoming community engagements to inform their efforts to revise the definition of “waters of the United States” (WOTUS). EPA and Army have stated a commitment to developing a reasonable, effective, and durable definition of WOTUS that protects public health, the environment, and downstream communities while supporting economic opportunity, agriculture, and other industries.
EPA and Army are announcing a series of engagement opportunities, including an opportunity for stakeholders and the public to provide written recommendations and a series of public meetings in August to hear perspectives on the rulemaking. In addition, the agencies are initiating Federalism and Tribal consultations for the foundational rule. The agencies also intend to host a series of dialogues with state and Tribal co-regulators this fall to discuss both rulemakings.
For more information on submitting written recommendations or to register for the public meetings, see www.epa.gov/wotus.
The Environmental Protection Agency and Department of the Army have announced their intent to revise the definition of “waters of the United States” to better protect our nation’s vital water resources that support public health, environmental protection, agricultural activity, and economic growth.
“After reviewing the Navigable Waters Protection Rule as directed by President Biden, the EPA and Department of the Army have determined that this rule is leading to significant, permanent environmental degradation,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “We are committed to establishing a durable definition of ‘waters of the United States’ based on Supreme Court precedent and drawing from the lessons learned from the current and previous regulations, as well as input from a wide array of stakeholders, so we can better protect our nation’s waters, foster economic growth, and support thriving communities.”
“Together, the Department of the Army and EPA will develop a rule that is informed by our technical expertise, is straightforward to implement by our agencies and our state and Tribal co-regulators, and is shaped by the lived experience of local communities” said Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jaime A. Pinkham.
The agencies’ new regulatory effort will be guided by the following considerations:
- Protecting water resources and our communities consistent with the Clean Water Act.
- The latest science and the effects of climate change on our waters.
- Emphasizing a rule with a practical implementation approach for state and Tribal partners.
- Reflecting the experience of and input received from landowners, the agricultural community that fuels and feeds the world, states, Tribes, local governments, community organizations, environmental groups, and disadvantaged communities with environmental justice concerns.
The agencies are committed to meaningful stakeholder engagement to ensure that a revised definition of waters of the United States considers essential clean water protections, as well as how the use of water supports key economic sectors. Further details of the agencies’ plans, including opportunity for public participation, will be conveyed in a forthcoming action. To learn more about the definition of waters of the United States, visit https://www.epa.gov/wotus.
24 March 2021 - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), as part of an interagency effort with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), is announcing the availability of the draft changes to the 2020 NWPL and its web address to solicit public comments. The public now has the opportunity to comment on the proposed changes to wetland indicator status ratings for five plant species in select regions and the addition of 22 new plant species to the NWPL. The Federal Register Notice (FRN) for the 2020 NWPL update can be found here: https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2021-03-24/pdf/2021-05989.pdf. The public comment period ends on 24 May 2021.
The 27 species and their draft 2020 wetland ratings by region, as well as the FRN, can be viewed at the NWPL homepage, http://wetland-plants.usace.army.mil/, under “2020 NWPL Update Information.” A link to provide general or species-specific comments is also available at this location. Users are encouraged to submit literature citations, herbaria records, experiential references, monitoring data, and other relevant information. Specific knowledge of, or studies related to, individual species are particularly helpful. Commenters should use their regional botanical and ecological expertise, field observations, reviews of the most recent indicator status information, appropriate botanical literature, floras, herbarium specimens with notation of habitat and associated species, habit data, relevant studies, and historic list information. Providing ratings without supporting documentation or information is not recommended. All submitted comments and information will be compiled and sent to the National Panel for their consideration.
USACE is also seeking comments regarding the administrative change to the South Pacific Islands subregion and the NWPL update process. Detailed information on the update process, protocol, and technical issues can be found in the following documents (available on the “NWPL Publications” web page referenced above):
- Lichvar, Robert W. and Minkin, Paul. Concepts and Procedures for Updating the National Wetland Plant List. Sept 2008. ERDC/CRREL TN-08-3
- Lichvar, Robert W. and Gillrich, Jennifer J. Final Protocol for Assigning Wetland Indicator Status Ratings during National Wetland Plant List Update. Sept 2011. ERDC/CRREL TN-11-1
USACE administers the NWPL for the United States and its territories. The NWPL provides plant species indicator status ratings, which are used in determining whether the hydrophytic vegetation factor is met when conducting wetland delineations under the Clean Water Act and wetland determinations under the Wetland Conservation Provisions of the Food Security Act. Other applications of the NWPL include wetland restoration, establishment, and enhancement projects. Additions or deletions to the NWPL represent new records, range extensions, nomenclatural and taxonomic changes, and newly proposed species. The latest review process began in 2020 and included review by Regional Panels and the National Panel.
State of Florida’s request to assume a portion of Clean Water Act Section 404 program:
Pursuant to Section 404(g) of the Clean Water Act (CWA), 33 U.S.C. § 1344(g), the State of Florida is seeking to assume administration of a portion of the CWA Section 404 program, referred to as Assumption. The State of Florida submitted its application to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which has until December 17, 2020 to approve or deny the State’s request. If the EPA approves the State’s request, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) anticipates Assumption would be implemented between December 17, 2020 and January 15, 2021. The State of Florida is proposing that the Section 404 program will be administered by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP). Once the date of Assumption becomes effective, the Corps will transfer to the FDEP any pending Section 404 permit applications proposing discharges in State ‘assumed’ waters. However, the Corps will maintain Section 404 authority over certain waters, referred to as ‘retained’ waters. Retained waters include those waters that (1) are specifically listed in the Retained Waters List (2) waters subject to the ebb and flow of tide, and (3) wetlands adjacent thereto landward to a 300-foot administrative boundary. In the case of a project that involves a discharge of dredged or fill material both waterward and landward of the 300-foot guideline, the Corps will retain jurisdiction to the landward boundary of the project for the purposes of that project only.
Click here to access FDEP's webpage to determine if your project resides in Retained Waters.
Alternative/Emergency Permitting Procedures for Hurricane Sally
The Jacksonville District received emergency permitting authorization on September 24, 2020, in response to Hurricane Sally, which made landfall on Sep 16, 2020, near Gulf Shores, Alabama. These procedures have been granted for 6 months, or until Mar 24, 2021. As a result of Hurricane Sally, portions of Northwest Florida have been impacted by storm surge, winds, and flooding. The District has coordinated these emergency permitting procedures with resource Agencies and Tribes. An “emergency” is defined as a situation, which would result in an unacceptable hazard to life, a significant loss of property or an immediate, unforeseen, and significant economic hardship if corrective action requiring a permit is not undertaken within a time period less than the normal time needed to process the application under standard procedures. Typically, an emergency permit is for work that has to be done in a hurry. The District anticipates that many requests received may be addressed through one or more General Permits, including Nationwide Permits. The District will distribute a public notice on these procedures which may be found at: http://www.saj.usace.army.mil/Missions/Regulatory/Public-Notices
11 Sep 2020 Clean Water Act Section 401 Certification Rule Implemented:
Effective September 11, 2020, the “Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 401 Certification Rule” (85 Fed. Reg. 42,210 (July 13, 2020)) is being implemented nationwide. The Rule (to be codified at 40 C.F.R. Part 121) establishes procedures that promote consistent implementation of CWA Section 401 and regulatory certainty in the federal permitting process. Section 401 of the CWA provides states and authorized tribes with an important tool to help protect the water quality of federally regulated waters within their borders, in collaboration with federal agencies. Section 401 of the CWA requires that, for any federally licensed or permitted project that may result in a discharge into waters of the United States, a water quality certification be issued to ensure that the discharge complies with applicable water quality requirements. The Rule addresses some key areas of the CWA Section 401 certification process, including timelines for review and action, the scope of certification review, and early engagement (pre-filing meetings). More information on the Rule is available at the following website: https://www.epa.gov/CWA-401 Also refer to the SAJ Public Notice announcing the 11 Sep 2020 Clean Water Act Section 401 Certification Rule Implementation.
22 Jun 2020 – Navigable Waters Protection Rule becomes effective:
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of the Army’s Navigable Waters Protection Rule (NWPR): Definition of “Waters of the United States” became effective on June 22, 2020 in 49 states and all US territories. The NWPR establishes the scope of federal regulatory authority under the Clean Water Act. The NWPR includes four simple categories of jurisdictional waters and provides specific exclusions for many water features that traditionally have not been regulated. The Federal Register notice is available at https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2020/04/21/2020-02500/the-navigable-waters-protection-rule-definition-of-waters-of-the-united-states. Additional information about the rule can be found on the EPA’s website at https://www.epa.gov/nwpr.
The interim approved jurisdictional determination form and user manual for the Navigable Waters Protection Rule can be found at https://www.usace.army.mil/Missions/Civil-Works/Regulatory-Program-and-Permits/juris_info/.