By Paul J Sniadecki, MLSA Board Director

Do you remember the federal Clean Water Act (CWA)? Perhaps, if you do not or never heard of it, you should. In any event, riparians can be relieved that action taken on November 18, 2021 will restore federal protections for thousands and thousands of small streams, wetlands, and other waterways.

In 1972, the nation enacted the Clean Water Act to prevent, reduce, and eliminate pollution in the nation’s water. This was done to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of our waters, the Waters Of The United States (WOTUS). Soon thereafter, many environmental groups, farmers, land developers, lawmakers, and some courts began to question what qualified as WOTUS. In 1985-86 the Federal Supreme Court had to take up the matter to review standards. There was even a Clean Water Rule issued in 2015 to clarify WOTUS.

In February 2017, the prior administration in Washington issued an Executive Order for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps to rescind the 2015 rule, which was protecting about 60% of our waterways. The EPA and the Corps issued yet another rule, but one that had significantly smaller applicability and protections for surface water. The new rule was formally adopted in January 2020, and on August 30, 2021 the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona vacated the rule because it contained serious errors and had the potential to cause significant harm to the nation’s waters if left in place.

Subsequently, the win for surface water that occurred on November 18, 2021 involved the EPA restoring the protection standards in place prior to 2015 and beginning the process to issue a new rule consistent with the Clean Water Act requirements. This is especially important for surface water in Michigan, which is subject to the ‘No Stricter Than Federal’ Michigan law passed in late 2018, during the lame-duck legislature and signed by former Gov. Rick Snyder.

MLSA will provide updates as the EPA and the Army Corps release proposals relative to the new Clean Water Rule.

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