Attorney General Bonta Urges Biden Administration to Protect California’s Waterways

Friday, September 3, 2021
Contact: (916) 210-6000,

Expand definition of “waters of the United States” to address environmental justice and climate change

OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta and New York Attorney General Letitia James today led a multistate coalition in submitting a comment letter urging the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (Army Corps) to stop applying a recently vacated Trump-era rule redefining “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act. The coalition, which includes 18 state attorneys general, as well as the City of New York and the California State Water Resources Control Board, also asks the agencies to resume application of the 1980s regulatory definition, and swiftly adopt a new, more protective definition. Under the Trump Administration’s 2020 rule, more than half of all wetlands and at least 18 percent of all streams were left without federal protections. Western states like California were even harder hit, with 35% of all streams deprived of federal protections as a result of the region’s dry climate. As the West confronts worsening drought conditions, the coalition argues that it is essential that the EPA and Army Corps not only restore the previous protections for these waterways, but develop a new, more expansive definition that addresses climate change and environmental justice.

“California relies on our waterways to sustain our communities, our economy, and our biodiversity,” said Attorney General Bonta. “The fact is: We’re living in a precarious time, as severe weather events such as droughts grow increasingly common. We need robust protections in place to ensure our waterways don’t bear the brunt of these changes. It is critical that the Biden Administration stop applying the unlawful Trump-era rule and expand the waters protected under the Clean Water Act to meet the realities of today — and tomorrow.”

The definition of “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act is critical to maintaining a strong federal foundation for water pollution control that preserves the integrity of our waters. While the Clean Water Act has resulted in dramatic improvements to water quality in the United States, its overriding objective has not yet been achieved. Many of the Nation’s waters remain polluted.  

The 2020 rule made the Clean Water Act’s goals further out of reach, threatening entire watersheds, including 4.8 million miles of streams and 16.3 million acres of non-floodplain wetlands. In May 2020, a California and New York-led coalition filed a lawsuit challenging the unlawful rule. Earlier this week, in a separate lawsuit filed by environmental groups and several tribes, the District of Arizona vacated the 2020 rule. Today's coalition is urging the EPA and the Army Corps to comply with the order to vacate the Trump-era unlawful WOTUS definition, apply the more protective 1980s regulatory definition, and develop a broad definition of “waters of the United States” that is based on the science, safeguards water quality and integrity consistent with the Clean Water Act, and takes into account climate change and environmental justice concerns. 

All Americans are entitled to clean water for drinking, recreation, and countless other uses that sustain our life and economic activities, but many of the most vulnerable and  already overburdened communities continue to lack access to this fundamental resource. The new definition should strive to eliminate these inequities. It should also be based on a consideration of the consequences of climate change. Water quality and quantity continue to change as a result of more frequent, severe, and unpredictable weather events. Western states have experienced and are currently experiencing unprecedented drought conditions. The attorneys general urge the EPA and Army Corps to take these concerns into consideration as they work to swiftly develop and finalize a new definition for “waters of the United States.”

Attorneys General Bonta and James are joined by the California State Water Resources Control Board, as well as the attorneys general of Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, the District of Columbia, and the City of New York in filing the comment letter.

A copy of the letter is available here.

# # #