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Potential Implications of Approaches to Climate Change on the Clean Water Rule Definition of “Waters of the United States”


The 1972 Clean Water Act was passed to protect chemical, physical, and biological integrity of United States’ waters. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers codified a new “waters of the United States” rule on June 29, 2015, because several Supreme Court case decisions caused confusion with the existing rule. Climate change could affect this rule through connectivity between groundwater and surface waters; floodplain waters and the 100-year floodplain; changes in jurisdictional status; and sea level rise on coastal ecosystems. Four approaches are discussed for handling these implications: (1) “Wait and see”; (2) changes to the rule; (3) use guidance documents; (4) Congress statutorily defining “waters of the United States.” The approach chosen should be legally defensible and achieved in a timely fashion to provide protection to “waters of the United States” in proactive consideration of scientifically documented effects of climate change on aquatic ecosystems.

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We thank Zachary Loman for providing comments on an earlier draft of this manuscript. Any use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

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Correspondence to Matthew T. Moore.

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Faust, D.R., Moore, M.T., Emison, G.A. et al. Potential Implications of Approaches to Climate Change on the Clean Water Rule Definition of “Waters of the United States”. Bull Environ Contam Toxicol 96, 565–572 (2016).

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  • Clean Water Act
  • Climate change
  • Policy
  • Waters of the United States
  • Connectivity