POTUS sets rollback of WOTUS in motion

Donald Trump

An executive order signed yesterday by President Donald Trump will force the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to review the “Waters of the United States” rule.

The rule, or “WOTUS“, was created during the Obama Administration and expanded federal authority granted by 1972’s Clean Water Act to “clearly protect from pollution and degradation the streams and wetlands that form the foundation of the nation’s water resources,” according to the EPA.

The CWA defined waters subject to jurisdictional authority as being “navigable”, though ambiguity in that definition led to a number of interpretations — even between departments within some federal agencies.

WOTUS was created not only to address these differences, but also to account for the role runoff from smaller tributaries has in polluting downstream sources.

The regulation was most heavily opposed by the agricultural sector, which said the new restrictions were too constrictive for small farming and ranching operations.

WOTUS was also criticized by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, for its potential impact on small hydroelectric projects.

“Alaska has nearly 300 prime locations for hydro development, nearly 200 in southeast Alaska alone,” Murkowski said in a 2015 Senate address. “But, many of them require the construction of powerhouses or transmission lines that may rest on wetlands or cross wetlands as defined by the new rule, and that’s now a big problem.”

According to Murkowski, proposals that would have previously been approved for a maximum of $200,000 in 18 months are now much more likely to be tied up in federal red tape, increasing their costs to closer to a million dollars and their licensing time up to five years.

“These additional costs are likely going to kill these small projects,” Murkowski said. “And what happens? The community continues providing their power by diesel, when you’ve got a clean opportunity but that opportunity is going to be suffocated by this rule.”

The rollback detailed in Trump’s executive order does not guarantee that WOTUS will be repealed, nor does it dictate a deadline for the EPA and other agencies to perform their review.

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Michael Harris formerly was Editor for HydroWorld.com.

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