For those embarking on an earth-moving project anywhere near a stream—or for those in whose neighborhood the project is taking place—the question of exactly which water bodies are protected has become murky over the last several years. Which types of work require a permit has also been open to question; some developers have assumed they didn’t need one and found themselves paying penalties for it.
Some have argued that an ephemeral stream is not protected, nor is a stream that does not actually connect to a navigable waterway, as these are not actually “waters of the United States” as defined in the Clean Water Act. EPA and the US Army Corps of Engineers have recently issued new guidance to help define exactly which waters are protected (both examples above are).
The goal seems to be to get waters and wetlands back on to the list that interpretations of court rulings have removed. EPA is seeking public comment on the draft guidance. You can submit comments online (the comment form on the link above wasn’t yet working as of Tuesday, but EPA says it should be available soon under the “What Do You Think?” tab.) The site also includes links to other information, such as a cost and benefit summary.