Skip to Main Content
Services Talent Knowledge
Site Search


Our attorneys stay on top of changes in legislation, agency regulations, case law, and industry trends—then craft timely legal alerts to keep clients up to date on legal developments important to their business.

March 8, 2017

WOTUS Rule Rescinded

On March 6, 2017, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ("Army Corps") and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ("USEPA") officially announced their intention to rescind or revise a final rule defining "waters of the United States" under the Clean Water Act. The 2015 Clean Water Rule defined "waters of the United States" as those having a "significant nexus" with "navigable waters," thereby including upstream and adjacent waters not navigable-in-fact under the jurisdiction of the Army Corps and USEPA. The highly controversial rule was challenged by 31 states, and on February 28, 2017, President Trump issued an Executive Order directing the agencies to rescind or revise the rule. The agencies Notice of Intent implementing the Order was published in the Federal Register on March 6th.

The 2015 Rule was based largely on the opinion of Justice Kennedy in Rapanos v. U.S., 547 U.S. 715 (2006), which adopted a jurisdictional definition for "waters of the United States" that included waters with a "significant nexus" to traditional navigable waters. According to the 2015 Rule, a "significant nexus" is based on an evaluation of waters that have a physical, hydrological, chemical, biological, or ecological connection, as well as legal and technical considerations within the agencies' expertise in implementing the Clean Water Act. Consequently, in addition to jurisdictional waters (traditional navigable waters, interstate waters, territorial seas), the 2015 Rule designated tributaries and adjacent waters, such as waters located within a 100-year floodplain, as jurisdictional by rule based on scientific information supporting a significant nexus to jurisdictional waters. The 2015 Rule also established categories of waters requiring a case-specific analysis to determine if a "significant nexus" exists, namely Prairie potholes, Carolina and Delmarva bays, pocosins, western vernal pools in California, Texas coastal prairie wetlands, and waters within certain distances of floodplains, the high-tide line, or the high water mark.

In contrast, the Notice of Intent states that the agencies will consider a jurisdictional definition of "waters of the United States" that is consistent with the plurality opinion in Rapanos written by former Justice Scalia, which rejected the "significant nexus" standard. Rather, the definition articulated in the plurality opinion narrows the definition of "waters of the United States" to those waters that are relatively permanent, or in the case of wetlands, have a continuous surface connection to water bodies that are traditional "waters of the United States" so that there is no clear demarcation between the two. The definition in the opinion thereby excludes channels that have only intermittent or ephemeral water flows, as well as adjacent water bodies. Accordingly, if the plurality opinion is to be the guide for a new Clean Water Rule, the new rule will likely exclude waters that lack a permanent physical connection with traditional navigable waters, such as adjacent or isolated wetlands and water bodies, as well as drainage channels that have only intermittent or ephemeral water flows.

If you require further information regarding the information presented in this Legal Alert and its impact on your organization, please contact Tom Paul at (315) 425-2785 or or either Co-Chair of the Environmental Practice Area Frank Bifera, at (518) 429-4224 or or Yvonne Hennessey, at (518) 429-4293 or


Click here to sign up for alerts, blog posts, and firm news.

Featured Media


NYS Siting Board Grants Developer's Petition for Relief From County's Unreasonable Delay


Horseback Rider Assumes Risk of "Green Broke" Horse


New York Adult Survivors Act Set to Expire


NYS Appellate Court Reverses in Favor of Policyholder in Ensuing Loss Case


Temporary Health Care Staffing Agencies Can No Longer Charge for Hiring Their Personnel


The First Department Addresses When a Party Is Entitled to Treble Damages Pursuant to Judiciary Law §487

This site uses cookies to give you the best experience possible on our site and in some cases direct advertisements to you based upon your use of our site.

By clicking [I agree], you are agreeing to our use of cookies. For information on what cookies we use and how to manage our use of cookies, please visit our Privacy Statement.

I AgreeOpt-Out