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More wetlands, streams protected under new Clean Water Rule, EPA says

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Posted at 3:37 PM, Jun 17, 2015
and last updated 2015-06-17 15:46:17-04

The Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army recently took an historic step to protect the streams and wetlands that feed rivers and lakes. 

The Clean Water Rule defines the scope of the Clean Water Act in order to safeguard a larger percentage from possible farming and development pollution.

According to the EPA, a third of Americans get drinking water from streams that were previously not protected. In a release May 28, the EPA said “the rule ensures that waters protected under the Clean Water Act are more precisely defined and predictably determined, making permitting less costly, easier, and faster for businesses and industry."

Read the Clean Water Rule announcement

For those in agriculture, no new permitting requirements have been put in place, officials said. The rule "maintains all previous exemptions and exclusions,” according to the release. 

It does not protect any new types of waters not previously covered by the Clean Water Act.

The EPA said the Clean Water Rule:
° Defines and protects tributaries that impact downstream waters (they must show features of flowing water to warrant protection)
° Protects waters next to rivers, lakes and their tributaries as they also impact downstream waters
° Protects regional "water treasures" such as "prairie potholes, Carolina and Delmarva bays, pocosins, western vernal pools in California and Texas coastal prairie wetlands when they impact downstream waters"
° Focuses on streams; ditches not constructed in streams and flow only during rainfall are not covered
° Limits case-specific analysis of waters by creating certainty on protected waters

The American Farm Bureau has been vocal in opposing the Clean Water Rule. According to the L.A. Times, the bureau said the rule is not clear and creates confusion. The organization addressed Congress in a letter citing concerns for farm ditches, agricultural ponds and isolated wetlands.

The farm bureau launched a social media campaign using the hashtag "#Ditchtherule," and the EPA responded with its own, "#Ditchthemyth." A number of U.S. politicians have launched bills to block the rule from taking effect out of concern for ephemeral streams and those that do not connect to larger waterways.

The EPA said the Clean Water Rule will help the U.S. as climate change develops, stating the protected streams and wetlands will help retain moisture during droughts.