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Mapping the Truth

2014 August 28
Tom Reynolds


August 28, 2014
4:34 pm EDT

Since releasing our proposal in March to better protect clean water, there have been some questions raised in the press, most recently about maps that use data developed by the U.S. Geological Survey and the Fish & Wildlife Service and show locations and flow patterns of many of the nation’s waterways.

Before discussing the truth about the history and purpose of the maps, let’s review some basic facts. The Clean Water Act was passed by Congress to protect our nation’s water bodies from pollution. This law has nothing to do with land use or private property rights, and our proposal does not do anything to change that. The idea that EPA can use the Clean Water Act to execute a land grab or intrude on private property rights is simply false.

We want people to have the facts about our proposal to protect clean water and the critical nature of streams and wetlands to our health, communities, and economy. We’ve already worked to ditch many of the myths and misunderstandings in circulation relating to our effort to protect clean water. Now here is the truth about these maps, which you can see for yourself here.

  • The maps were originally created in 2005 during the previous administration to understand the potential impact of Supreme Court decisions on the nation’s water resources.
  • The maps were revised last year with updated data from the U.S. Geological Survey, the scientific agency for cataloguing the nation’s natural resources.
  • Simply put, these maps do not show the scope of waters historically covered under the Clean Water Act or proposed to be covered under EPA’s proposed rule. These maps show generally the location of many streams, wetlands, rivers, lakes and other water bodies. They serve as a tool for visualizing how water flows across our nation and in regions of the country.
  • EPA has never and is not now relying on maps to determine jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers determines jurisdiction using detailed site specific information in response to requests. That work can be cumbersome and has resulted in lots of on the ground work, but it does not rely on these maps. EPA’s proposal will not fully eliminate the need for these efforts, but it can reduce leg work, saving time and money by using science – not maps – to more clearly define the waters that are most important to protect.
  • While these maps are useful tools for water resource managers, they cannot be used to determine Clean Water Act jurisdiction – now or ever.  Their resolution and scale make it seem like water is more prevalent than it really is, giving the false impression that most of the state is water when everyone knows that is clearly not the case.

EPA’s job – our obligation – is to use the best data, technology, science, and yes, maps, to protect the water that is absolutely vital to our daily lives for drinking, recreation, and the economy. Maps such as these are part of that overall effort – to provide clean water to every American.

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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3 Responses leave one →
  1. Ferdinand Quiñones, Hydrologist permalink
    August 31, 2014

    I think that Tom Reynolds fails to take into account the great advancements in mapping technology using high resolution areal photographs and other sattellite data (lidar, etc.). These new maps can provide ample detail for the USACE and USEPA to define most of the “waters of the US”. Field work has always been necessary for wetlands determinations, which are the final tool that the USACE requires, particularly for those that are intermittent. And this field work will continue to be needed. But for areas where the streams are restricted to channels, the maps are plenty good.

  2. M. White, farmer/conservationist permalink
    September 3, 2014

    If these maps cannot be used to determine CWA jurisdiction, then how is the average citizen to know what waterbodies/streams are jurisdictional? How will the average landowner know which streams/ditches need to meet his/her state’s water quality criteria? The maps you reference are at a USGS map scale of 1:24,000. At that scale, those maps show “streams” running through my farm fields where my family has farmed for over 100 years. There are no streams there. Those “streams”, if regulated would represent not just edge of field, but in-field drainage patterns. If those “streams” had to meet water quality criteria for nitrates or phosphorous there is no way on earth that field could be farmed. Now I ask you, does that not constitute a potential change to my personal property rights based on proposed CWA regulation? I ask this as a farmer who practices full conservation compliance. I use no-till, I use cover crops, I utilize constructed terraces and wetlands, all of my fields have grassed field borders.
    You are being disingenous with your remarks. People who make their living off of the land want certainty about what regulations they need to comply with. Your rule increases the uncertainty of what may or may not be deemed a WOTUS. You have said that only the Army Corps of Engineers can make that determination, not these maps. So given that, are we supposed to just wait around for a notice of violation or citizen lawsuit, and then have the ACOE make a determination? I really want to know, because as of now these maps show “streams” on my farm fields where you wont even find a ditch. Furthermore, one of those “streams” is shown connecting to a livestock watering pond on my farm. Would that constitute significant nexus? Is my upland man made livestock watering pond now going to be subject to water quality standards? These are real world questions that many farmers and ranchers would like answers to, but what we get are overly simplified and reactive comments about “ditching the myth”. Thank you for your service.

  3. Cristofer permalink
    September 5, 2014

    This is a really good read for me. Must admit that you are one of the coolest blogs I ever saw. Thanks for posting informative article.

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