Federal wetland regulations

Flock of mallard ducks feeding in wetland in Skagit County.

Photo credit: Brent M., Creative Common.

The 1972 federal Clean Water Act affords protections to “waters of the United States," governs water pollution, and helps protect Washington waters. Our federal partners at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) protect waters of the United States, including wetlands.


Federal environmental policy (2017-2021)

Between 2017 and 2021, several major environmental regulations were rolled back reducing the protections provided by previous federal environmental laws. 

On Aug. 30, 2021, the EPA and Corps received an order from the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona in the case of Pascua Yaqui Tribe v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which vacated and remanded the Navigable Waters Protection Rule. In light of this order, federal agencies have halted implementation of the Navigable Waters Protection Rule and are interpreting waters of the United States consistent with the pre-2015 regulatory regime until further notice.

We are working with the the EPA and the Corps to restore protections, strengthen our nation's environmental policies, prepare for the future by addressing climate change, and support unbiased research and scientific analysis. 

Currently the pre-2015 Clean Water Act (CWA) regulations and guidance apply, as described on EPA's web page.  

The Corps and EPA determine jurisdiction for waters of the United States (WOTUS)

Under the CWA, a permit is required to dispose of dredged or fill material in WOTUS, including wetlands. The Corps, jointly with the EPA, determines the jurisdiction for WOTUS, including wetlands, for all discharges of dredged or fill material associated with activities occurring in WOTUS. Applicants may request a jurisdictional determination (JD) from the Corps to verify the presence or absence of WOTUS on their project site. Applicants or their consultants can provide information to the agencies, but the final determination must be made by the Corps.

Standing water pools in between dense wetland emergent vegetation.

These interdunal wetlands on the Long Beach peninsula are vital habitat for migrating birds and other animals. 

Washington laws governing wetlands not changed by federal courts

The state Water Pollution Control Act and associated regulations make no distinction between WOTUS and non-WOTUS wetlands. All "waters of the state" are covered by state law.

We continue to regulate non-WOTUS wetlands and apply the water quality standards prescribed by state law. Ecology’s process for regulating projects involving non-federally regulated (non-WOTUS) wetlands is similar to the process used for federally-regulated wetlands. See state wetland regulation & applicant resources.