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EPA and Army Corps of Engineers Release Draft Guidance to Clarify Waters Covered by Clean Water Act

Release Date: 05/11/2011
Contact Information: (News Media Only): John Senn, (212) 637-3667, senn.john@epa.gov

(New York, N.Y.) U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Regional Administrator Judith Enck today traveled to New York’s Great Swamp in Brewster, N.Y. to discuss the importance of clean water and a draft guidance developed by EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to clarify which waters are subject to protection under the Clean Water Act.

The future status and condition of the Great Swamp is dependent not only on what happens directly within the swamp, but also on activities within its nearly 100-square-mile watershed, which includes the headwaters of the Housatonic River, the Croton River, Long Island Sound and New York Harbor. Part of the Great Swamp lies within the New York City watershed, and the Croton watershed in the past has provided about 10 percent of New York City’s drinking water. Headwater streams and their adjacent wetlands are where our larger streams, rivers and lakes originate.

“Clean water is our most vital natural resource and its protection is directly tied to preserving wetlands and other bodies of water,” said EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck. “The new federal guidance will help restore protection to critical waters and provide clearer guidelines for determining which water bodies we can keep safe from pollution and other pressures.”

"Water flows down hill, and you cannot protect one portion of a watershed without protecting all the interconnected waters,” said Joseph Martens, Commissioner of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. "For nearly 25 years, it was settled policy that wetlands and streams, including smaller and intermittent streams and wetlands, were protected by the Clean Water Act. I am glad to see that draft federal guidance now seeks to restore clarity concerning that protection. The Clean Water Act should be interpreted in a manner that protects water quality and habitats, and to mitigate floods by protecting the wetlands that work to absorb flood waters.”

On April 27, EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers released "Draft Guidance on Identifying Waters Protected by the Clean Water Act" for a 60-day public comment period. This draft guidance clarifies how EPA and the Corps will identify "Waters of the United States" under the Clean Water Act. It implements the Supreme Court's decisions in Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Rapanos v. United States.

Headwater streams comprise 20 percent of the 3,800 miles of streams in the New York City watershed. Roughly 15 percent of the watershed’s nearly 25,000 acres of wetlands and ponds are linked to downstream reservoirs by streams that flow only part of the year and, as such, are potentially unprotected based on current Clean Water Act guidance. EPA anticipates that the new guidance will enhance protection of these wetlands and headwater streams in most watersheds.

Headwater streams and wetlands feed our rivers and lakes both water and nourishing materials such as aquatic insects and organic matter. Ultimately, this assists biological diversity in these water systems. Headwater streams and their nearby wetlands also play an important role in maintaining the water quality of our streams, lakes and rivers, and the ability of wetlands to store flood water reduces the risk of costly property damage and loss of life. These areas assist in reducing sediment and nutrient loads entering the nation’s waters. They also contribute to the supply of drinking water available to the residents of New York State.

For nearly 40 years, the Clean Water Act, along with other important federal measures, has been a cornerstone of our effort to ensure that Americans have clean and healthy waters. The draft guidance is part of the Obama administration's national clean water framework, which emphasizes the importance of partnerships and coordination with states, local communities and the public to protect public health and water quality, and promote the nation’s energy and economic security.

The administration’s framework outlines a series of actions underway and planned across federal agencies to ensure the integrity of the waters Americans rely on every day for drinking, swimming, and fishing, and that support farming, recreation, tourism and economic growth. It includes draft federal guidance to clarify which waters are protected by the Clean Water Act nationwide; innovative partnerships and programs to improve water quality and water efficiency; and initiatives to revitalize communities and economies by restoring rivers and critical watersheds.

To read the draft guidance and for information on how to submit a comment, visit http://www.water.epa.gov/lawsregs/guidance/wetlands/CWAwaters.cfm.

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