Agencies try to redefine Water of the United States
Growing up, I spent many summers traveling from my home in Moscow, Idaho to Orion and Winchester, Illinois, where my parents were from. During the long drive, my sister and I shared the bench-style back seat of the car (bucket seats in the late 1950s were limited to Thunderbirds, Volkswagens and tractors). Normally, by the second day, my sister and I had carefully proportioned the back seat – my side and her side. Don’t get on my side! Boundaries were carefully, exactly and consistently enforced by my sister and I with an occasional appeal to our parents in front.
The issue of boundaries brings me to the topic in this column – an ongoing debate referred to as Waters of the United States (WOTUS). Some background. Congress, in 1972, concerned about increasing pollution of the nation’s water supply, enacted the Clean Water Act. Regulations were drafted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in concert with the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE), to implement the Act. A key question was where to establish the boundaries on what waters those agencies would regulate. They decided to focus their regulatory efforts on keeping clean “navigable waters” and “tributaries” which they referred to as WOTUS. This meant those agencies were not interested in the small stream in my back yard because it was neither navigable nor a tributary.