Waters of the US

By Nancy Stoner

Water has always been a powerful force in my life. I grew up in a floodplain outside Waynesboro, Virginia, near the South River. My house was right next to the river, and one time the floods were so bad that I ended up going out the front door on a boat. It was scary: I saw a neighbor clinging to a tree with one arm and his child with the other.

Perhaps influenced by growing up near the water, I’ve spent my career working to protect rivers, lakes, and coastal waters from pollution. Because I care about clean water so deeply, it is gratifying to be a part of recent Obama Administration actions that will protect our country’s clean water.

The Clean Water Act empowers states, EPA, and citizens to protect America’s waters, which we call “waters of the United States.”

Over the last 10 years, two Supreme Court decisions have caused confusion about what waters are protected by the Clean Water Act. And this confusion has meant that some waters that should be protected are not. Lakes, small streams, streams that run for only part of the year, and wetlands not directly connected to the tributary system are most at risk.

If these waters are not clearly protected, flooding may pose greater risks to our communities in the future—and I know how damaging such floods can be. Every year, flooding causes about $1.9 billion in property damage. More than 117 million Americans get some or all of their drinking water from waters that are not clearly protected right now. Every dollar spent on source water protection saves about $27 in water treatment costs. Clean water is an essential priority for hunters and fishers: About 40 million anglers spend about $45 billion a year, and about 2.3 million people spend $1.3 billion per year hunting migratory birds.

That’s why EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers have proposed for public comment a guidance document that clarifies where the Clean Water Act applies. Our approach is based in science and makes common sense: protecting the smallest waters is the best and most cost-effective way to protect the bigger waters they flow into.

Our waters are a crucial part of our lives and our landscapes. The guidance and related information is on our web site.   I invite you to read this proposed guidance and let us know what you think.

About the author: Nancy Stoner is the Acting Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Water

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