MRC Comments to EPA re: WOTUS

Date:    February 4, 2022

To:         U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

From:    Mississippi River Collaborative

RE:        Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OW-2021-0602 – Revised Definition of Waters of the United States

Members of the Mississippi River Collaborative (MRC) urge U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to:

  1. repeal immediately the so-called “Navigable Waters Protection Rule” because, among other reasons, it fails to protect even traditionally navigable waters from pollution and unnecessary flooding, and
  2. establish rules that will protect waters necessary to protect water quality, floodwater retention capacity, and communities affected by nutrient pollution and floods.

The Mississippi River Collaborative ( consists of ten state organizations – as well as regional and national partners – working to protect water quality in the Mississippi River Basin and the Gulf of Mexico.

There are many good reasons for repealing the illegal Navigable Waters Protection Rule and establishing sound rules. In line with its mission to protect the Mississippi River ecosystem, MRC will emphasize two points here.

1. Protection of Upland Wetlands and Ephemeral Streams is necessary to protect water quality in the Mississippi River and other large water bodies.

MRC has worked to address Gulf hypoxia issues since its founding over a decade ago, and many organizations and individuals within MRC have worked on nutrient pollution and hypoxia issues for over 30 years. Over those years, progress has been made in many areas to reduce nutrient pollution, but unfortunately destruction of wetlands, stream channelization, and other actions that have disrupted natural stream flows have greatly impeded progress. In some water bodies within the Mississippi Basin, nutrient pollution has only become more dire, as shown by numerous examples including the following:

  • The Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone was the largest measured in 2017 and was significantly larger than predicted in 2021.
  • Hundreds of miles of the Ohio River were affected by a cyano-bacteria outbreak in 2015.
  • Toxic algae outbreaks were identified in lakes in Ohio, Iowa, and Louisiana in 2018.
  • Toxic algae outbreaks have been found on numerous occasions in the Illinois River in areas popular for water skiing and above drinking water intakes and other recreational areas.

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources scientists have found highly toxic levels of microcystin in numerous Mississippi River backwaters, and there is no reason to doubt that such toxic levels of microcystin would be found in other Upper Mississippi River backwaters if they were studied.

The link between continued destruction of wetlands and increased nutrient pollution, as well as the link between wetland restoration and protection of water quality, is very clear. (See One cannot protect waters like the Illinois, Mississippi, and Ohio Rivers and the Gulf of Mexico without protecting wetlands and small streams.

2. Protection of Upland Wetlands and Ephemeral Streams is necessary to protect traditionally navigable waters and the communities neighboring them.

It is hard to imagine something that more directly burdens interstate commerce than disastrous floods that shut down commercial traffic, as did the 1993 Flood of the Mississippi. Studies done after the 1993 flood, while recognizing that there were a number of factors that contributed to the flooding, pointed in particular to loss of upland wetlands and stream channelization as contributors to the height of the peak floodwaters. (See the Interagency Flood Management Review Committee to the Administration’s June 1994 report, “Sharing the Challenge: Floodplain Management into the 21st Century,” a.k.a. “Galloway Report,” available at

Every year, flooding in the United States costs the public billions of dollars with the 2011 flooding of the Mississippi alone estimated to have cost more than $2,000,000,000. (See and This flooding has especially affected minority communities and is expected to continue to do so. (See Climate change will certainly make this situation even worse.

It is often argued by those who wish to defeat needed protections of waters that regulation is an imposition on the rights of owners of private property. However, the destruction or channelization of upland water bodies that lessen flood peaks is a massive imposition on the rights of downstream property owners who would like to be able to enjoy their basements and living rooms. 

EPA and the USACE should promptly repeal the misinterpretation of “waters of the United States” that has worked to increase damage to the environment, lives, and property, and these agencies should establish rules that serve to maintain the “chemical, physical and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters,” as codified in Clean Water Act, Section 101, 33 U.S.C. § 1251.


Albert Ettinger, Counsel to Mississippi River Collaborative

Matt Rota, Senior Policy Director, Healthy Gulf

Mike Schmidt, Staff Attorney, Iowa Environmental Council

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