Energy & Mining International - Fall 2015 - 19


COLUMNS | CLEAN WATER

Fall 2015

ponds themselves excluded from
regulation, but so too are any ditches
or constructed channels that convey
waters or solutions to and from such
ponds. While there may remain some
ambiguities, these exclusions provide reasonable assurance to mining
operators that artificial ponds not
constructed by impounding WOTUS
remain outside of the agencies' jurisdiction under the CWA.

EPHEMERAL AND
INTERMITTENT DRAINAGES
A second major concern of U.S.
mining companies is the potential
regulation of ephemeral and intermittent drainages. Ephemeral drainages
flow only in response to precipitation
events, while intermittent drainages
typically flow in response to precipitation or, during parts of the year, due
to groundwater inflow. Such drainages do not (in industry's view) contribute meaningful flow to streams,
rivers, or traditional navigable waters
(TNW). Indeed, in the arid West, the
upper reaches of such drainages may
flow at most for a few days every year,
while the lower regions may flow once
per decade. Even when there is flow,
water in these drainages - particularly in the arid West - normally percolates into the ground or evaporates
before reaching a TNW or tributary
thereof. Prior to the final rule, the
regulatory status of ephemeral or intermittent drainages was determined
on a case-by-case basis depending
upon the extent of impact, if any, they
might have on the chemical, physical
or biological integrity of a TNW, after
considering their frequency, volume
and duration of flow, distance to the
nearest TNW and local evaporation/
precipitation rates.
The final rule expands the agencies'

jurisdiction over such drainages. The
rule defines WOTUS to include all
ephemeral and intermittent drainages
that are "tributaries." This encompasses all drainages that have physical
indicators (or historically had indicators) of flow, signified by the presence
of a bed, banks and ordinary high water
mark (OHWM), and that contribute
surface flow to a TNW either directly
or through other waters. There is no
minimum flow that must be contributed. The preamble makes clear that if
an ephemeral or intermittent drainage
has a bed, banks and OHWM, then that
is considered proof of sufficient flow
to be deemed WOTUS if the channel of
the drainage physically reaches a TNW
or tributary thereof.
The final rule also provides that
"erosional features" - including gullies,
rills and "other ephemeral features
that do not meet the definition of a
tributary" will not be subject to the
agencies' jurisdiction. The preamble
states that ephemeral features that
lack a bed, banks and OHWM fall
within this exclusion, while ephemeral
features that do have a bed, banks and
OHWM and that physically connect
by channel to a TNW or tributary, do
not. The preamble does not address the
status of ephemeral features that have
a bed, banks and OHWM for some of
their length, but that lose channel definition prior to physically connecting
with a TNW or tributary. A fair reading
of the final rule is that such ephemeral
drainages are not regulated as WOTUS,
but the agencies may construe this
provision differently.
The final rule also asserts jurisdiction over any ephemeral or intermittent drainage (other than an erosional
feature as defined above) that either:
(1) is "neighboring," defined as either
located within 100 feet of the OHWM

+

of a TNW or tributary, or both located
within 1,500 feet of the OHWM of a
TNW or tributary and in the 100year floodplain of a TNW; or (2) has
a "significant nexus" to a TNW and is
either in the 100-year floodplain of a
TNW or within 4,000 feet of a TNW. A
significant nexus exists when, based on
case-specific circumstances, the drainage in combination with all "similarly
situated" drainages in the watershed
significantly impacts the integrity
of a TNW. Given the agencies' prior
expansive application of "significant
nexus," the latter category could potentially encompass the great majority of
ephemeral and intermittent drainages
in the U.S.
Mining and other industries are up
in arms over the scope of ephemeral/
intermittent drainages regulated by
the final rule. The industry believes
the agencies have greatly expanded
their jurisdiction and have made more
confusing which drainages are subject
to jurisdiction. The already-filed
industry lawsuits focus on this issue.
If the rule is upheld by the courts, and
legislative attempts at derailing the
rule are unsuccessful, mining companies will be forced to obtain permits
from the Corps prior to constructing
or expanding facilities that might
touch upon such drainages, thereby
increasing both costs and delays of
construction projects. Indeed, due
to the rule's lack of clarity, extensive
costs will likely be incurred to evaluate which drainages are jurisdictional,
and to seek jurisdictional determinations from the Corps.
The court challenges to the rule will
likely take years to complete (after all
appeals). In the meantime, it remains
to be seen how the agencies themselves
will construe their newly-defined jurisdiction in practice. EMI

emi-magazine.com 19


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