Dirty Water Rule

Since it was enacted in 1972, the federal Clean Water Act has played a central role in safeguarding and improving many of our nation’s waterways and wetlands. This seminal environmental law protects rivers, lakes, and streams upon which millions of Americans rely for drinking water and for activities like fishing and swimming. The law also protects millions of acres of wetlands that keep those rivers, lakes, and streams clean, while reducing flood damage and providing invaluable habitat for the nation’s abundant wildlife. Water pollution is still a serious problem in the United States, but our water quality has improved significantly over the past several decades due in large part to the Clean Water Act’s pollution-control protections. And in 2015, the Obama administration clarified the Clean Water Act’s safeguards by issuing the Clean Water Rule, thereby ensuring the critical protections the Act provides would apply to many important streams, wetlands, and drinking water sources across the country.

Now, the Trump administration threatens to reverse that progress with a new regulation called the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, which was issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers in April 2020. We and our partners call it the “Dirty Water Rule,” because it harmfully—and illegally—narrows the scope of the Clean Water Act by revoking federal protections for countless important streams, wetlands, and other waters. In particular, the Dirty Water Rule excludes millions of miles of rain-dependent streams and millions of acres of wetlands from critical safeguards of the Clean Water Act.

The Dirty Water Rule is the most severe weakening of clean water protections any administration has attempted since the Clean Water Act passed in 1972. The rule ignores robust scientific evidence showing that the streams and wetlands impacted by the rule are critical to the health of downstream water bodies.

During the Obama administration, NRDC defended attacks on the Clean Water Rule from industry. Then we and our partners, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center, sued the Trump administration in federal district court following its repeal of the rule in September 2019. Most recently, in April 2020, NRDC sued EPA and the Army Corps to stop the Dirty Water Rule, alongside a broad coalition of environmental groups: Clean Wisconsin, Connecticut River Conservancy, Conservation Law Foundation, Mass Audubon, Merrimack River Watershed Council, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, and Prairie Rivers Network. 

NRDC joined this fight because the Trump administration’s disregard for and misrepresentation of scientific evidence is not only unlawful but also poses substantial risk to our country’s waters and the people who depend on them.

Last Updated

February 16, 2021



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