Clean Water Act


Clean water is essential to a healthy environment, a growing economy and vibrant neighborhoods. NAR supports voluntary, market-based solutions that enhance the quality of water resources and protects property rights, while minimizing unnecessary regulations, costs and uncertainty for property owners and buyers.

Contrary to Supreme Court decisions, the Administration has proposed to clarify which bodies of water are subject to Clean Water Act regulations.

Depending on its definition of "waters of the U.S." (WOTUS), the Clean Water Act would require expensive and time consuming federal permits to develop private property with any wet area --  not just properties with a navigable interstate water or adjacent wetland.  In addition, property owners may experience a taking under the regulation without adequate compensation, as prescribed under the 5th Amendment of the Constitution.

Clean Water Act Topics

Political Advocacy

Current Legislation/Regulation

EPA Proposed Rule


Letters to Congress
Congressional testimonies
Letters to federal agencies
Issue summary
NAR Federal Issues Tracker

Legislative Contact(s):

Russell Riggs

Ryan Rusbuldt

Regulatory Contact(s):

Russell Riggs

What is the fundamental issue?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers are proposing to clarify which water bodies are 'U.S. waters' and therefore subject to Clean Water Act regulations.  See Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County (SWANCC) v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 531 U.S. 159 (2001); and Rapanos v. United States, 547 U.S. 715 (2006).

I am a real estate professional. What does this mean for my business?

The Act will require expensive, time-consuming federal permits to develop private property near most water bodies -- not just those which are navigable.  In addition, property owners may experience a taking under the regulation without adequate compensation, as prescribed under the 5th Amendment of the Constitution.

NAR Policy:

NAR supports using appropriate scientific criteria to identify regulated areas, keeping the focus on preserving high value wetlands; requiring that local officials and affected property owners be notified about the presence of wetlands; and using wetlands mitigation banking.

NAR and others supported the Supreme Court decisions to reject federal agency attempts to assert jurisdiction beyond navigable waters to all waters based on theories like the presence of migratory birds.

Legislative/Regulatory Status/Outlook

On April 21, 2014, the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) jointly proposed a rule to "clarify" which water bodies are "waters of the U.S." (WOTUS) and thereby regulated under the Clean Water Act. The proposal expanded jurisdiction and authority over more waters of the U.S., negatively impacting economic development and property rights in communities across the country.

This rule was finalized and went into effect on August 28, 2015. While the EPA made several changes to the proposed rule in response to public comments, the final rule expanded federal jurisdiction over more U.S. waters beyond past practice, guidance and the limitations affirmed by two Supreme Court decisions.  Property owners still lack clarity about what is needed or required to not be regulated by the Army Corps of Engineers or the EPA under the Clean Water Act.

Legally, the rule has stayed in approximately half the states; the other states are authorized to implement the 2015 Clean Water Rule.

The EPA and Army Corps of Engineers have recently proposed a rule to replace the 2015 Clean Water Rule. This proposed rule balances regulatory clarity and transparency with robust environmental protection of waters and wetlands. It aligns with Supreme Court precedent and seeks to preserve the states’ roles in regulating waters within their boundaries. It is based on sound science but also reflects reasonable legal interpretations on the appropriate scope of the agencies’ regulation under the CWA. NAR will be submitting comments in support of this proposed rule.

In addition to the proposed "replacement" rule, the EPA and the Corps recently moved to repeal the 2015 WOTUS Rule. This means that the entire country reverts back to pre-2015 WOTUS Rule definition which, while not perfect, has the effect of getting rid of the regulatory patchwork and provides consistency to the private sector.   

NAR believes that only Congress can fundamentally alter the Clean Water Act and will continue to oppose any efforts, whether through policy, guidance or regulation, to expand the Act's reach or otherwise infringe on property rights.

NAR Committee:

Land Use, Property Rights and Environment Committee


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