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Is the Clean Water Rule still in effect?

For background, the Clean Water Rule is an update to the Clean Water Act (CWA) that became law in the United States in 1972. The CWA went into effect after years of public outcry over environmental damage from industrial pollution, including from farms. The act created protections for America’s drinking water sources, including rivers, streams, and other bodies of water of the U.S. (WOTUS). The legislation set limits on industrial waste water contamination levels, as well as required companies to file a permit if their business practices could pollute local waterways.

Forty-three years later: the Clean Water Rule

The Clean Water Rule was established by the Obama administration in 2015 as an extension of the CWA. The rule expanded the definition of the waters of the U.S. to include waterways that do not flow year-round, plus waters that are not always connected to others, such as interior wetlands. The government added the new protections after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) analyzed over 1,200 peer-reviewed studies that showed the connectivity of these smaller bodies to downstream waters.

Current efforts to end the Clean Water Rule

In July 2017, the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers began an effort to repeal the Clean Water Rule. Since 2017, the issue has been debated in the U.S. court system. As a result of a series of legal decisions, the rule is not currently in effect on a federal level. Instead, twenty-two states still adhere to the 2015 rule; twenty-eight states do not.

The end of federal-level Clean Water Rule looks likely

The Trump administration is working to eliminate the 2015 rule across the country and is now close to achieving the goal. This attempt is welcome news to people who believe the regulation was confusing, encompassed too much territory, and amounted to government overreach.

Some support the decision

Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau stated, “For too long, farmers and ranchers have had to live with real regulatory confusion. Some hear they must follow the pre-2015 rule. Others have to follow the 2015 rule, even though courts have found it illegal. The confusion only heightens the risk farmers and ranchers face in these already uncertain times.”

State laws can also provide protection

In April, Popular Science published a state-by-state analysis of the potential changes to the Clean Water Rule. In one example, the state of New Jersey supplies water to nearly half of its residents from water sources covered by the Clean Water Rule. At the same time, New Jersey has higher state-level water standards than required by the federal government, so the state’s water should maintain a high level of protection.

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