Protect Our Headwaters and Wetlands
The Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are proposing to significantly narrow the scope of protections for our nation’s waters. The proposal would replace the science-based 2015 rule which includes protections for headwaters, intermittent and ephemeral streams, and wetlands. The new proposal (Replacement Rule) would substantially weaken the Clean Water Act, one of the Nation’s most effective natural resource laws.
Opportunity for public comment is now closed.
On December 11, the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (“the agencies”) released a new rule to replace the 2015 Waters of the U.S. Rule (WOTUS) that will result in a rollback of Clean Water Act protections for a majority of the nation’s streams and wetlands, including the headwater streams and millions of acres of seasonal wetlands that provide valuable habitat for many species of fish.
Headwater streams, including ephemeral streams, and wetlands contribute to the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of downstream waters. The agencies’ refusal to consider the science, including the most current understanding of how streams and wetlands contribute to the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of downstream waters, is detrimental to the integrity and security of our drinking water, public health, fisheries, and wildlife habitat and could significantly increase the risks and costs associated with flood and storm damage. AFS urges the agencies to take this science into account as they seek to replace the WOTUS rule with one that offers fewer protections for headwater streams and wetlands. Particularly vulnerable ecosystems like playa lakes, prairie potholes, Carolina and Delmarva Bays, pocosins, and vernal pools that provide valuable habitat for fish and other organisms would no longer be protected under the new rule.
The 2015 Clean Water Rule or WOTUS Rule clarified the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act to include protections for intermittent headwater streams and hydrologically connected wetlands, with wetlands outside of the floodplains to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. With the release of the rule, the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have now taken the second step in a two-step process to repeal the 2015 Waters of the U.S. rule with one that would provide fewer protections for headwaters and wetlands.
Headwaters are broadly defined as portions of a river basin that contribute to the development and maintenance of downstream navigable waters including rivers, lakes, and oceans. Headwaters include wetlands outside of floodplains, small stream tributaries with permanent flow, tributaries with intermittent flow (e.g., periodic or seasonal flows supported by groundwater or precipitation), or tributaries or areas of the landscape with ephemeral flows (e.g., short-term flows that occur as a direct result of a rainfall event). Headwater streams comprise the majority of river networks globally; in the conterminous United States, headwater streams comprise 79% of river length, and they directly drain just over 70% of the land area. Along with wetlands, these ecosystems are essential for sustaining fish and fisheries in the U.S. When headwaters are polluted, or headwater habitats are destroyed, fish, fisheries, and ecosystem services are compromised.
Because of the importance of headwaters, any rule that excludes their protection will have far reaching implications for fish, wildlife and their habitats, as well as economies dependent on those systems. Headwaters are key to the sustainability of fish stocks in both upstream and downstream waters. Threatened and endangered species will be harder to recover, and more species will be at risk of becoming imperiled. Simply put, loss of protections for headwaters would have grave consequences for fish and fisheries. Ultimately, communities across the U.S. would lose the economic, social, and cultural benefits derived from headwaters.
The American Fisheries Society (AFS) supports the 2015 rule and the science underpinning its development, as documented by review of more than 1,200 peer-reviewed scientific studies by technical experts to determine degrees of connectivity and their ecological consequences between navigable waters, wetlands, and headwater streams. AFS fully supports the 2015 WOTUS rule and is concerned that this new, narrower rule would have far-reaching implications for fish, wildlife, and their habitat.
We encourage our members to continue to engage on this issue and promote the importance of headwaters to fish and fisheries. The public may comment for 60 days after publication of the new rule in the Federal Register (until Monday, April 15th at 11:59 p.m. Eastern).
- Headwater Streams & Wetlands are Critical for Sustaining Fish, Fisheries, & Ecosystem Services – Congressional Briefing presentation by Dr. Susan Colvin, Unity College
- Overview of Proposed WOTUS Rule – Congressional Briefing presentation by Dr. S. Mažeika Sullivan, The Ohio State University
- What It All Means: Waters of the US on the Ground – Congressional Briefing presentation by Kurt Fesenmyer, Trout Unlimited
- Mapping WOTUS fact sheet
- Video: Rule change threatens ecological lifelines in US
Latest News about WOTUS
News for Immediate Release April 15, 2019 Contact: Kristyn Brady, 617-501-6352, [email protected] Hunting and Fishing Groups File Final Comments Opposing Clean Water Rollback 14 national groups and 70 local affiliate chapters oppose the proposed weakening of clean water standards that would threaten fish and wildlife habitat (Washington, D.C.) — Today, dozens of national, regional, and […]
American Fisheries Society 425 Barlow Place, Suite 110, Bethesda, Maryland 20814 Telephone: 301-897-8616 www.fisheries.org The Wildlife Society 425 Barlow Place, Suite 200, Bethesda, Maryland 20814 Telephone: 301-897-9770 www.wildlife.org April 12, 2019 Mr. R.D. James Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 441 G Street, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20314 Via […]
April 10, 2019 Mr. R.D. James Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 441 G Street, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20314 Via regulations.gov: Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OW-2018-0149 Re: Scientific Societies Comments on Proposed Rule – Revised Definition of “Waters of the United States” (84 FR 4154; Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OW-2018-0149) […]
Waters of the US (WOTUS): What You Need to Know About the Rule and How to Take Action from fisheries on Vimeo. This webinar was recorded on February 27, 2018. The video contains some sections with poor audio quality, and AFS staff will work to edit portions of this recording. Presenter slides: Gillian Davies – […]
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 22, 2019 Mr. […]
December 21, 2018 Andrew Wheeler, Acting Administrator Environmental Protection Agency 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington, DC 20460 R.D. James Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) Department of the Army 108 Army Pentagon Washington, D.C. 20310-0108 Email delivery to: [email protected] RE: Request for Extension to Comment on Docket ID No. EPA–HQ–OW–2018–0149 Dear Acting Administrator Wheeler […]
Opportunity for public comment is now open. The comment period will close on Monday, April 15th at 11:59 p.m. Eastern. Download a PDF flyer on how to comment. The very narrow rule fails to account for the full range of physical, chemical, and biological connections between navigable waters and the streams and wetlands. The limited protections […]
New Paper, “Headwater Streams and Wetlands are Critical for Sustaining Fish, Fisheries and Ecosystem Services,” demonstrates threats to ecosystem services, imperiled species, commercial and recreational species, and culturally valuable fish from narrow rule. The American Fisheries Society (AFS) is deeply concerned with the proposed rule released Thursday, February 14, by the EPA and the U.S. […]
Download PDF: Headwater Streams and Wetlands Are Critical for Sustaining Fish, Fisheries, and Ecosystem Services
Webinar on February 27: Waters of the US (WOTUS) – What You Need to Know about the Rule and How to Take Action
February 27, 2019, 1:00 – 2:00 p.m. EST Efforts by the Trump administration are underway to roll back Clean Water Act protections for our nation’s streams and wetlands. The newly proposed rule to revise the definition of waters of the United States (WOTUS) aims to exclude many wetlands and headwater streams that are critical to […]
EPA Press Release: EPA and Army Announce Public Hearing on Proposed New “Waters of the United States” Definition Hearing will be held February 27-28, 2019 in Kansas City, Kansas 02/06/2019 Contact Information: EPA Press Office ([email protected]) WASHINGTON — Following President Trump’s directive to provide certainty to American farmers and landowners so that the economy can continue to expand […]
Efforts are underway by the Trump Administration to roll back Clean Water Act protections for our nation’s streams and wetlands. Last year, AFS convened a group of fisheries and aquatic science experts to synthesize the science around the importance of headwaters to fish in anticipation of a new, narrower, Waters of the U.S. rule. The […]
Download a PDF of a new fact sheet of the Waters of the U.S. Rule (WOTUS) produced by the American Fisheries Society, National Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, American Fly Fishing Trade Association, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, and the Izaak Walton League.
By Leanne Roulson, AFS Second Vice President Originally published as a Guest Editorial from the AFS Western Division’s Tributary newsletter. On December 11th, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) released a proposed rule that that regulates Waters of the US (WOTUS) to redefine the scope of Clean Water Act protections […]
News for Immediate Release December 11, 2018 Contact: Kristyn Brady, 617-501-6352, [email protected] Replacing Clean Water Rule Would Threaten Fish, Waterfowl, and Outdoor Recreation Economy The EPA and Army Corps of Engineers proceeds with rolling back Clean Water Act protections for headwater streams and wetlands—harming trout, waterfowl, and outdoor recreation businesses. WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, the […]
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 Aquatic Scientists Push Back […]
The Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have taken a new tack to repeal the 2015 Waters of the U.S. Rule or WOTUS Rule. On July 6, the agencies issued a supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking to amend a July 2017 proposed action that delayed the implementation of the WOTUS Rule with a […]
Timeline to Replace Clean Water Rule Released; Congress Dips its Toes in WOTUS; AFS Seeks Experts to Synthesize Science on Importance of Headwaters Streams to Fish
Last week, the White House released an updated timeline to repeal and replace the 2015 Clean Water Rule, also known as the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule. According to a document released on Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers will not finalize their planned repeal of the Clean […]
On this World Water Day, AFS learned that a troubling policy rider related to the Clean Water Rule was removed from the Omnibus budget bill for Fiscal Year 2018. The rider would have allowed EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to repeal the 2015 Clean Water Rule without following the Administrative Procedures Act. That means the agencies could ignore public […]
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On January 22, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that challenges to the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule must be heard in district courts rather than in U.S. Federal Courts of Appeal presenting a procedural hurdle to the Trump Administration’s efforts to repeal and replace the 2015 rule with a narrower rule. Industry and local […]
By Steve McMullin, AFS President President Barack Obama once famously said, “Elections have consequences.” The first year of the Trump Administration clearly demonstrates the truth of that statement, and the consequences for fisheries and the environment are potentially “huge.” The Trump Administration’s approach to science and the environment during its first year in office included […]
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The House of Representatives Passes Fiscal Year 2018 Budget Bills; AFS Urges Senate to Reject WOTUS Rider
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UPDATE: The House of Representatives passed a security-themed “minibus” appropriations package on July 27, containing Defense, Energy & Water, Legislative Branch, and Military Construction-Veterans Affairs spending bills. The bill includes a controversial provision to exempt the repeal of the 2015 Clean Water Rule from the Administrative Procedures Act (APA). The policy rider would allow for an expedited […]
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