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EPA Science: Supporting the Waters of the U.S.

2013 September 17
Nancy Stoner

Lek Kadeli

September 17, 2013
2:10 pm EDT

One of the great environmental success stories of our time is the Clean Water Act. Forty years ago, the condition of U.S. rivers, streams, lakes, coastal areas and other water resources was a national concern.

Things started to improve after the newly-established U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was given direction “to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters” through major revisions to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (now the Clean Water Act).

But over the past decade, court decisions have created uncertainty about the Clean Water Act’s protection of certain streams and wetlands from pollution and development. In particular, the confusion centers on questions surrounding small streams and wetlands—some of which only flow after precipitation or dry up during parts of the year—and what role they play in the health of larger water bodies nearby or downstream.

This week, EPA’s Science Advisory Board released for public comment a draft scientific report, “Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters: A Review and Synthesis of the Scientific Evidence.” This draft report synthesizes more than 1,000 peer-reviewed pieces of scientific literature about how smaller, isolated water bodies are connected to larger ones and represents the state-of-the-science on the connectivity and isolation of waters in the United States. The draft report makes three main conclusions: 

  • Streams, regardless of their size or how frequently they flow, are connected to and have important effects on downstream waters.
  • Wetlands and open-waters in floodplains of streams and rivers and in riparian areas (transition areas between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems) are integrated with streams and rivers. They strongly influence downstream waters by affecting the flow of water, introducing nonpoint source pollution, and exchanging biological species.
  • There is insufficient information to generalize about wetlands and open-waters located outside of riparian areas and floodplains and their connectivity to downstream waters.

Through public comment and independent peer review by the Science Advisory Board, we’re seeking input on the literature summarized in the report and its conclusions.

The final version of this report will serve as a basis for a joint EPA and Army Corps of Engineers rulemaking aimed at clarifying the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act. A draft of this rule was sent today to the Office of Management and Budget for interagency review. The proposed joint rule will provide greater consistency, certainty, and predictability nationwide by providing clarity for determining where the Clean Water Act applies and where it does not. These improvements are necessary to reduce costs and minimize delays in the permit process and protect waters that are vital to public health, the environment and economy.

When final, EPA’s science report on connectivity will provide the science foundation for agency decisions concerning the implementation of the Clean Water Act. The final rule will provide clarification for how that science is translated to policy. Together, the science and rulemaking ensure that the Agency’s success story of protecting the nation’s water will continue.

Nancy Stoner is EPA’s Acting Assistant Administrator in EPA’s Office of Water. Since February 1, 2010, Nancy Stoner has been serving as the Deputy Assistant Administrator for Water. Ms. Stoner’s extensive career in environmental policy and law began in 1987 as a trial attorney in the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. Most recently Ms. Stoner served as the Co-Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) Water Program. Ms. Stoner is a 1986 graduate of Yale Law School and a 1982 graduate of the University of Virginia.

Lek Kadeli is the Acting Assistant Administrator in the U.S. EPA’s Office of Research and Development. He has over 29 years of management experience in both government and the private sector, with broad experience in leading organizational change and improvement, policy development, resource management, information management and technology. Mr. Kadeli graduated from George Mason University in 1983 with a B.A. in International Relations. In 1986, he earned an M.A. in National Security Studies from Georgetown University.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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6 Responses leave one →
  1. Sam Ward permalink
    September 18, 2013

    To Whom It May Concern:

    When I read how far reaching this proposal sounds, it further entrenches my distrust of the Federal Government. I have worked in the natural resources field for some 30 years. The apparent intent of those who work for the regulatory agencies is to continue to strangle the rights of the private sector. When someone who worked for the Natural Resources Defense Council can become an assistant administrator at the EPA, that tells me how far to the left this agency has moved. Please help me understand how a private citizen that owns land can have one ounce of trust in the Federal Government when it operates in such an obvious power grabbing way.

    Thank you for your attention.

    Sam Ward

  2. October 8, 2013

    I’m sorry – how does the above from Jon Allie have one thing to do with the definition of navigable waters of the US (the subject of the blog) – looks to me like someone just “hijacked” this space for their own soapbox — abeit good an valuable information – does it really belong here??

    Back to the POINT of the blog – I am in total sympathy with the first writer and the never ending expansion of “coverage” by the EPA. You could read their proposal in such an expansive way as to suggest that “no water is safe” from jurisdiction. Congress did NOT intend for EPA to “rule over all” – or else they would not have imposed limits in the Clean Water Act in the first place. Sometimes I think folks have to find new rules to write so that they can keep their jobs??!!

    While we must do a better job of protection waters that have an impact on the US as a whole and the economy as a whole, there must be SENSE applied. Someone’s backyard puddle has little impact and when 1 item out of 3 can be enough to define a wetland … really??? Where will it stop??

  3. Teri George permalink
    October 21, 2013

    I have worked in the water resources realm for over 20 years and have seen an ever increasing stretch of the federal government into the purview of local and state governments in an attempt to find a one-size fits all approach to the use of one’s property. I am forever grateful that the federal government stepped in to save our rivers within the U.S., especially those that flowed between states. The consequences of dumping chemicals and other pollutants into these avenues of trade and as a source of drinking water needed protection from a government outside of the individual state but during the last 20 years, that guidance and coordination has turned into overreach. When a property owner wants to fill in minor washes with clean fill material leaving no flow and therefore no pollution in the downstream wash and follows local regulations regarding no adverse impact to downstream property owners, they should be allowed to do so. To try and described clean fill added to a 1’-2’ depression as having an impact to downstream flowing rivers, sometime hundreds of miles away, is ludicrous and an overreach of what should be a limited federal government. Leave it to the local agencies to regulate waterways within their boundaries.

  4. C Powers permalink
    October 29, 2013

    Blatant government power grab with the intended purpose of limiting legitimate property rights.

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