How Changes to the WOTUS Rule Affect Drinking Water


Analies Dyjak & Eric Roy, Ph.D.
**UPDATE January 23, 2020: EPA Introduces Navigable Waters Protection Rule to replace WOTUS**

Editor's Note: Today, the US EPA and US Army Corps Of Engineers announced that they repealed the Clean Water Rule, and redefined which waters are regulated by the federal government under the Waters Of The United States (WOTUS) Rule. The purpose of this article is to inform the public how this regulatory change can impact their drinking water. We will be updating this article continuously as we learn more and to answer frequently asked questions about changes in U.S water quality standards.

What Is WOTUS? 

Waters Of The United States (WOTUS) defines which bodies of water the Federal Government can regulate under the Clean Water Rule. In 2015 the Obama Administration worked to establish a definition for which waters can be regulated waters with the intent of protecting drinking water, ecosystems, wetlands, and endangered species. Most importantly for U.S. water quality standards, WOTUS definitions provided coverage to groundwater, as roughly 50% of the US population drinks groundwater, including the 15% of people who draw drinking water from private wells. The new WOTUS definition basically removes these protections, among other things.

How Will The New WOTUS Definition Impact Drinking Water?

In the press conference, EPA officials mentioned that the new change does not change the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). This is intentionally misleading because private wells are NOT protected by the SDWA, and by removing federal protection from groundwater in general, the Trump administration is removing the only protection for people who have private wells, so those people really should be regularly testing their water quality, which is a giant financial burden to the citizen.

What Is Considered A Water Of The United States Under The Proposed Rule?

  • Traditional navigable waters
  • Tributaries
  • Navigable ditches
  • Lakes
  • Impoundments
  • Wetlands 

What Is NOT Considered A Water Of The United States Under The Proposed Rule?

  • Groundwater
  • Water features
  • Farm ditches
  • Converted cropland

Who Drove The Legislation To Roll Back These Protections?

A coalition of lobbyists from various business organizations, led by the American Farm Bureau was responsible for driving this legislation. In fact, the American Farm Bureau had representatives from western agricultural states in the press conference audience.

What Can Citizens Do To Be Heard On The Topic?

As with any proposed rule, there is a public comment period. Our experts will be submitting public comments to the Federal Register. Once the link is live, we'll be posting it here.

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