Waters of the US

Waters of the United States Rule under the Clean Water Act

Biological, chemical, and physical connections—such as the hydrologic connections shown here—link streams and wetlands to downstream waters. These connections are critically important for the functioning of watersheds and the fish they support. Adapted from EPA 2015 graphic.

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.

Cottonwood Creek is an intermittent tributary of the Gunnison River (Colorado River basin) in western Colorado that hosts large numbers of (b) Bluehead Sucker, (c) Flannelmouth Sucker, and (d) Roundtail Chub during spring spawning. Intermittent tributaries like these are critical for sustaining populations of these three species, which are the subject of rangewide conservation efforts to prevent listing under the ESA.

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).

Additional Resources


Latest News about WOTUS

AFS Joins Hunting and Fishing Groups in Filing Final Comments Opposing Clean Water Rollback

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 […]

0 comments

American Fisheries Society and The Wildlife Society Oppose Changes to the Waters of the US Rule

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 […]

0 comments

Science Societies Urge EPA Not to Change the Waters of the US Rule

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) […]

0 comments

Webinar recording: Waters of the US (WOTUS)

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 – […]

0 comments

CASS Requests Extension of Waters of the US Comment Period and Additional Public Hearings

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. […]

0 comments

AFS Requests Extension on Waters of the US Comment Period

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 […]

0 comments

How to Submit Comments on the Revised Waters of the US (WOTUS)

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 […]

0 comments

WOTUS Rule Fails to Consider Science and Threatens Fish and Fisheries

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. […]

0 comments

Fact Sheet on Importance of Headwater Streams and Wetlands for Fish, Fisheries, and Ecosystems

Download PDF: Headwater Streams and Wetlands Are Critical for Sustaining Fish, Fisheries, and Ecosystem Services  

0 comments

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 […]

0 comments

WOTUS Public Hearing Scheduled for February 27 in Kansas City

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 […]

0 comments

AFS Paper on Loss of Clean Water Act Protections for Headwater Streams and Wetlands

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 […]

0 comments

New WOTUS Fact Sheet

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.    

0 comments

What’s Up With WOTUS?

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 […]

0 comments

Replacing Clean Water Rule Would Threaten Fish, Waterfowl, and Outdoor Recreation Economy

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 […]

0 comments

Aquatic Scientists Push Back Against Narrow WOTUS Rule

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 […]

0 comments

Administration Flip Flops on Rationale for WOTUS Repeal

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 […]

0 comments

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 […]

0 comments

World Water Day Brings Good News on Clean Water Rule (WOTUS)

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 […]

0 comments

Clean Water Act Policy Rider

There continues to be a concern that a policy rider in a Senate Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill that exempts the repeal of the Clean Water Rule from the Administrative Procedures Act might make its way to final passage of a Fiscal Year 2018 spending bill.  Earlier this year, the CASS groups sent […]

0 comments

Supreme Court Decision on WOTUS Jurisdiction Spurs EPA Action

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 […]

0 comments

PRESIDENT’S COMMENTARY: The AFS Role in High-Priority Policy Issues

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 […]

0 comments

December 13 Deadline for WOTUS Comments – Updated

AFS is joining with other science societies to oppose the EPA’s most recent proposal to add an “effective date” to the 2015 rule. We believe that this action is an attempt to amend the Clean Water Rule. AFS believes that any agency action concerning WOTUS—including the effective suspension of the Clean Water Rule—must be supported […]

0 comments

WOTUS Hearing Update

The House Science, Space and Technology’s Subcommittee on the Environment held a hearing to discuss the future of the Waters of the U.S. Rule or “WOTUS” rule on Wednesday, November 29, 2017. The Trump Administration is seeking to repeal the rule that clarifies which wetlands and small waterways are protected by the Clean Water Act.  […]

0 comments

House To Examine State Capacity to Administer Wetland Protection

The House Science, Space and Technology’s Subcommittee on the Environment is scheduled to discuss the future of the Waters of the U.S. Rule or “WOTUS” rule on Wednesday, November 29, 2017. The regulation determines which wetlands and small waterways are protected by the Clean Water Act.  The subcommittee will also examine state participation in administering […]

0 comments

Science Societies Oppose Scalia Definition of WOTUS

In June, the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced the proposed repeal of the 2015 Clean Water Rule in anticipation of replacing it with a narrower definition of “Waters of the U.S.” or “WOTUS.”   The EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers are currently soliciting recommendations for this new definition, the second […]

0 comments

SCOTUS Hears Arguments on WOTUS Jurisdiction Case, and Other WOTUS Updates

In early 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to resolve jurisdictional wrangling over which federal court should hear challenges to the Environmental Protection Agency’s contentious 2015 Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule. That rule sought to clarify the definition of “navigable waters” in the Clean Water Act (CWA). Earlier this month, the nation’s highest court […]

0 comments

WOTUS Repeal Comment Period Ending Soon

Time is running out to submit your comment to EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers on the proposed repeal of the Waters of the U.S. Rule (WOTUS).  The comment period will close on September 27, 2017.  Make your voice heard! Comment here. AFS and 11 other science societies submitted a joint comment letter to oppose the […]

0 comments

The House of Representatives Passes Fiscal Year 2018 Budget Bills; AFS Urges Senate to Reject WOTUS Rider

In mid-September, the House passed an omnibus spending package containing all 12 of the major appropriations bills for fiscal year 2018. Senate appropriators are still working bills through the committee process. The House and Senate will need to reconcile their respective bills before the budget moves forward to President Trump for signature. Shortly after returning […]

0 comments

Trump Administration Solicits Input on WOTUS Replacement

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is pursuing a two-step process to repeal the Obama administration’s 2015 Waters of the U.S. rule and craft a replacement, using a narrower legal definition promoted by the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. The Trump administration will hold 10 teleconferences and one in-person meeting to solicit input as it prepares […]

0 comments

CASS Requests Extended WOTUS Comment Period

CASS WOTUS Comment Period Extension Request

0 comments

Clean Water Rule (WOTUS) Letter Submission Form for Scientists

Recently, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed to rescind the Clean Water Rule. (Details available on the Federal Register). The Clean Water Rule, which was developed using the best available, peer-reviewed science, clarifies which waters are and are not categorically protected under the Clean Water Act. Specifically, the Clean […]

0 comments

EPA Moves Forward to Repeal WOTUS

UPDATE: EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers have extended the comment period by 30 days for the proposed repeal of the Waters of the U.S. Rule (WOTUS) to provide additional time for stakeholders to weigh in. The comment period, as now extended, will close on September 27, 2017. https://www.epa.gov/wotus-rule/extension-comment-period-definition-waters-united-states-recodification-pre-existing The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is moving […]

0 comments

20,000 Scientists Warn that Repeal of Wetlands Rule Puts Important Aquatic Resources at Risk

The Trump administration is moving forward to repeal the 2015 Clean Water Rule (WOTUS). Last month, EPA and the Army Corps issued a proposed rule that was filed in the Federal Register today. The public comment period is open until August 28, 2017. AFS joined with the members of the Consortium of Aquatic Science Societies on a press release warning that the repeal puts aquatic resources at risk. Read it here.

0 comments

Appropriations Bill Aims to Exempt Clean Water Rule from Public Comments

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 […]

0 comments

ASWM to host WOTUS Webinar

The Association of State Wetland Managers (ASWM) will host a webinar on July 11, 2017 from 12:00-2:00 p.m. ET featuring legal experts representing diverse perspectives on the Trump administration’s proposed repeal of the 2015 Clean Water Rule. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Army are carrying out a two-step process to repeal […]

0 comments

EPA Announces Clean Water Rule Rollback

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have begun the process of rescinding the 2015 Clean Water Rule. The repeal of the 2015 rule and replacement could result in a rollback of Clean Water Act protections for a majority of the nation’s streams and wetlands, including the headwater streams and […]

0 comments

AFS Letter in Support of the Waters of the United States Rule

Earlier this week, President Trump issued an executive order to overturn the “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule approved by the Obama administration. In anticipation of this action, which was part of the President’s agenda, AFS has worked with its partners to prepare a letter to our leaders in support of the scientific basis of […]

0 comments