American Fisheries Society • Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography • Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation • Freshwater Mollusk Conservation Society • International Association for Great Lakes Research • North American Lake Management Society • Phycological Society of America • Society for Freshwater Science • Society of Wetland Scientists
February 7, 2022
Mr. Michael S. Regan
Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue NW,
Washington, DC 20460
Mr. Jaime A. Pinkham
Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works
Department of the Army
108 Army Pentagon, Washington, DC 20310-0104
Re: Waters of the U.S., Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OW-2021-0602
Dear Administrator Regan and Assistant Secretary Pinkham:
Thank you for your commitment to crafting an effective and durable definition of Waters of the United States (WOTUS) that protects public health, the environment, and downstream ecosystems and delivers the Clean Water Act mandate. The Consortium of Aquatic Science Societies (CASS) continues to support a science-based definition of WOTUS1 because of its importance to fish, fisheries, wildlife, watersheds, water quality and supply, flood control, ecosystem carbon storage and climate resilience services,2 as well as the people and economies that rely on them.3
CASS is composed of nine professional societies representing almost 20,000 individuals with diverse knowledge of the aquatic sciences. Our members work in the private sector, academia, nongovernmental organizations, and various tribal, state, and federal agencies. We appreciate the opportunity to comment on the proposed rule defining the scope of waters protected under the Clean Water Act, U.S. Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OW-2021-0602, as published in the Federal Register on December 7, 2020 (Proposed Rule). We support the repeal of the harmful 2020 Navigable Waters Protection Rule (NWPR)4 and a return to a modified pre-2015 regulatory regime, as an interim step, while the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the Agencies) work to craft a more considered and durable definition of WOTUS consistent with current science and the Clean Water Act.
We strongly support the science-based protections established in the 2015 Clean Water Rule5 because returning to a pre-2015 regulatory regime while the Agencies work to establish a new, durable definition will help limit the impacts of the harmful NWPR. We anticipate continued work with the Agencies to expeditiously re-establish a science-based definition of WOTUS that will facilitate the Clean Water Act (CWA) fulfilling its mandate to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation’s waters.
The NWPR significantly deviates from previous interpretations of CWA jurisdiction and the definition of WOTUS and largely ignores and oversimplifies basic science.6, 7 CASS fully supports the definition of WOTUS in the 2015 Clean Water Rule (CWR)8 as the basis for a new rule, which can be further informed by connectivity science that has emerged over the past 7 years.3, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 As documented in the EPA’s “Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters: A Review and Synthesis of the Scientific Evidence,” the 2015 CWR was overwhelmingly supported by peer-reviewed science.14 The NWPR is inconsistent with more than a half century of scientific research that demonstrates that the integrity of “traditionally navigable” waters fundamentally depends on ephemeral (i.e., flow only after precipitation events), intermittent (i.e., flow seasonally), and perennial (flow year-round) streams, as well as on wetlands located both within (i.e., floodplain wetlands) and outside (i.e., nonfloodplain or geographically isolated wetlands) of floodplains.7, 14 If allowed to stand, the very narrow definition of WOTUS in the NWPR would allow continued loss of protections for millions of stream miles and acres of wetlands, including many types of isolated wetlands and ephemeral streams with ecological and economic value disproportionate to their areas.15, 16
Further, given the very real and substantial impacts of climate warming, land uses, and groundwater extraction on our nation’s waters and other aquatic resources, it is imperative that any definition of WOTUS consider the accelerating effects of those anthropogenic pressures on the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation’s waters. Intermittent and ephemeral aquatic ecosystems and their associated biodiversity are particularly vulnerable and will need robust protections. Currently half of global river networks are prone to flow intermittence and because of climate change intermittency will increase.3,17,18 Rather than protecting our waters’ integrity, if left to stand the NWPR would have intensified the vulnerability of water resources to climate change and extensive and intensive land and water uses driven by agriculture, livestock grazing, forestry, mining, and urbanization.6,19,20
Science-based CWA protections can help protect aquatic ecosystems, maintain crucial ecosystem services for sequestration and storage of carbon, improve climate resilience, and promote our progress towards the drawdown of carbon from the atmosphere.2 We note that had the NWPR continued to be in effect, the resulting loss and impairment of previously protected WOTUS would have resulted in increased carbon releases into the atmosphere, further jeopardizing important goals to limit climate heating. As it stands, the Proposed Rule—while a vast improvement in water protection over the NWPR—does not fully align with the best-available science, leaving too many water bodies (e.g., ephemeral streams, multiple types of wetlands) vulnerable to discretionary determinations of jurisdiction. In particular, summer-dry or winter-wet streams and rivers,16,21,22 including spatially intermittent and temporally ephemeral systems, often host unique and diverse aquatic biota and they respond to water quality stressors in different manners than do permanent streams and rivers. Therefore, they must be monitored, assessed, and managed differently than permanent waters.22, 23,24,25
Thus, we want to continue working with you to quickly establish a science-based definition of WOTUS that will allow the CWA to fulfill its mandate to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation’s waters.
Thank you again for the opportunity to comment.
American Fisheries Society
Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography
Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation
Freshwater Mollusk Conservation Society
International Association for Great Lakes Research
North American Lake Management Society
Phycological Society of America
Society for Freshwater Science
Society of Wetland Scientists
1 Letter from the Consortium of Aquatic Sciences to Administrator Wheeler and Assistant Secretary James re: scientific societies’ comments on proposed rule – revised definition of “waters of the United States” (84 FR 4154; Docket ID No. EPA-HQOW-2018-0149). Available: https://www.esa.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/2019_4_10-Science-Societies-WOTUS-Letter-Final.pdf. (February 2021).
2 Moomaw, W. R., G. L. Chmura, G. T. Davies, C. M. Finlayson, B. A. Middleton, S. M. Natali, J. E. Perry, N. Roulet, and A. E. Sutton-Grier. 2018. Wetlands in a changing climate: science, policy and management. Wetlands 38:183–205.
3 Colvin, S. A. R., S. M. P. Sullivan, P. D. Shirey, R. W. Colvin, K. O. Winemiller, R. M. Hughes, K. D. Fausch, D. M. Infante, J. D. Olden, K. R. Bestgen, R. J. Danehy, and L. Eby. 2019. Headwater streams and wetlands are critical for sustaining fish, fisheries, and ecosystem services. Fisheries 2:73–91.
4 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 2020. The navigable waters protection rule: definition of “waters of the United States.” Federal Register 85:77(21 April 2020):22250.
5 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2015. Clean water rule: definition of “waters of the United States.” Federal Register 80(29 June 2015):37054.
6 Sullivan, S. M. P., M. C. Rains, A. D. Rodewald, W. W. Buzbee, and A. D Rosemond. 2020. Distorting science, putting water at risk. Science 369:766–768.
7 Leibowitz, S. G., P. J. Wigington, Jr., K. A. Schofield, L. C. Alexander, M. K. Vanderhoof, and H. E. Golden. 2018. Connectivity of streams and wetlands to downstream waters: an integrated systems framework. Journal of the American Water Resources Association 54:298–322.
8 Brief of the Amici Curiae in support of respondents and in support of upholding the Clean Water Rule (2017) filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, http://www.stetson.edu/law/international/biodiversity/media/amici_curiae_brief_of_wetland_ and_water%20_scientists-01-20-17_filed.pdf
9 Cohen, M. J., I. F. Creed, L. Alexander, N. B. Basu, A. J. K. Calhoun, C. Craft, E. D’Amico, E. DeKeyser, L. Fowler, H. E. Golden, J. W. Jawitz, P. Kalla, L. K. Kirkman, C. R. Lane, M. Lang, S. G. Leibowitz, D. B. Lewis, J. Marton, D. L. McLaughlin, D. M. Mushet, H. Raanan-Kiperwas, M. C. Rains, L. Smith, and S. C. Walls. 2016. Do geographically isolated wetlands influence landscape functions? Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 113:1978–1986.
10 Fritz, K. M., K. A. Schofield, L. C. Alexander, M. G. McManus, H. E. Golden, C. R. Lane, W. G. Kepner, S. D. LeDuc, J. E. DeMeester, and A. I. Pollard. 2018. Physical and chemical connectivity of streams and riparian wetlands to downstream waters: a synthesis. JAWRA (Journal of the American Water Resources Association) 54:323–345.
11 Harvey, J., J. Gomez-Velez, N. Schmadel, D. Scott, E. Boyer, R. Alexander, K. Eng, H. Golden, A. Kettner, C. Konrad, R. Moore, J. Pizzuto, G. Schwartz, C. Soulsby, and J. Choi. 2018. How hydrologic connectivity regulates water quality in river corridors. JAWRA (Journal of the American Water Resources Association) 54:369–381.
12 Rains, M. C., S. G. Leibowitz, M. J. Cohen, I. F. Creed, H. E. Golden, J. W. Jawitz, P. Kalla, C. R. Lane, M. W. Lang, and D. L. McLaughlin. 2016. Geographically isolated wetlands are part of the hydrological landscape. Hydrological Processes 30:153–160.
13 Schofield, K. A., L. C. Alexander, C. E. Ridley, M. K. Vanderhoof, K. M. Fritz, B. C. Autrey, J. E. DeMeester, W. G. Kepner, C. R. Lane, S. G. Leibowitz, and A. I. Pollard. 2018. Biota connect aquatic habitats throughout freshwater ecosystem mosaics. JAWRA (Journal of the American Water Resources Association) 54:372–399.
14 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2015. Connectivity of streams and wetlands to downstream waters: a review and synthesis of the scientific evidence (final report). U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA/600/R-14/475F, Washington, D.C.
15 Creed, I. F., C. R. Lane, J. N. Serran, L. C. Alexander, N. B. Basu, A. J. K. Calhoun, J. R. Christensen, M. J. Cohen, C. Craft, E. D’Amico, E. DeKeyser, L. Fowler, H. E. Golden, J. W. Jawitz, P. Kalla, L. K. Kirkman, M. Lang, S. G. Leibowitz, D. B. Lewis, J. Marton, D. L. McLaughlin, H. Raanan-Kiperwas, M. C. Rains, K. C. Rains, and L. Smith. 2017. Enhancing protection for vulnerable waters. Nature Geoscience 10:809–815.
16 Dieterich, M., and N. H. Anderson. 2000. The invertebrate fauna of summer-dry streams in western Oregon. Archiv für Hydrobiologi 147:273–295.
17 Messager, M. L., B. Lehner, C. Cockburn, N. Lamouroux, H. Pella, T. Snelder, K. Tockner, T. Trautmann, C. Watt, and T. Datry. 2021. Global prevalence of non-perennial rivers and streams. Nature 594:391–397.
18 Falke, J. A., K. D. Fausch, R. Magelky, A. Squires, D. Durnford, L. Riley, and R. Oad. 2011. Ecological futures for stream fishes along an intermittent Great Plains riverscape affected by drought and groundwater withdrawal for irrigation. Ecohydrology 4:682–697
19 Declaration of Dr. S. Mažeika Patricio Sullivan, California v. Wheeler (N.D. Cal.), Case 3:20-cv-03005-RS, Document 30-18.
20 Hughes, R. M., and R. L. Vadas. 2021. Agricultural effects on streams and rivers: a western USA focus. Water 13(14):1901.
21 Colvin, R., G. R. Giannico, J. Li, K. L. Boyer, and W. J. Gerth. 2009. Fish use of intermittent watercourses draining agricultural lands in the upper Willamette River valley, Oregon. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 138:1302–1313.
22 Crabot, J., S. Doldec, M. Forcellini, and T. Datry. 2021. Efficiency of invertebrate-based bioassessment for evaluating the ecological status of streams along a gradient of flow intermittence. Ecological Indicators 133:article 108440.
23 Hughes, R. M., M. Zeigler, S. Stringer, G. Linam, J. Flotemersch, S. Joseph, B. Jessup, J. Jacobi, L. Guevara, R. Cook, P. Bradley, and K. Barrios. 2022. Biological assessment of western USA sand-bed rivers based on modeling historical and current fish and macroinvertebrate data. River Research and Applications, doi.10.1002/rra/3929.
24 Robinson, W. A., M. Lintermans, J. H. Harris, and F. Guarino. 2019. A landscape-scale electrofishing monitoring program can evaluate fish responses to climatic conditions in the Murray–Darling River system, Australia. Pages 179–201 in R. M. Hughes, D. M. Infante, L. Wang, K. Chen, and B. F. Terra, editors. American Fisheries Society, Symposium 90, Bethesda, Maryland.
25 Soria, M., C. Gutiérrez-Cánovas, N. Bonada, R. Acosta, P. Rodríguez-Lozano, P. Fortuño, G. Burgazzi, D. Vinyoles, F. Gallart, J. Latron, P. Llorens, N. Prat, N. Cid, and R. Arlinghaus. 2020. Natural disturbances can produce misleading bioassessment results: identifying metrics to detect anthropogenic impacts in intermittent rivers. Journal of Applied Ecology 57:283–295.