Transforming Water Transfers: The Evolution of Water Transfer Case Law and the NPDES Water Transfers Proposed Rule

Colangelo, Sara
February 2008
Ecology Law Quarterly;2008, Vol. 35 Issue 1, p107
Academic Journal
Water transfers, the human-induced movement of water from one place to another, have historically sustained development of vast areas of otherwise uninhabitable land in the western United States, and have recently become a popular method for alleviating water allocation problems and scarcity in the eastern United States. As demands on water resources continue to grow, however, critical questions have arisen regarding how best to provide adequate water quantity while preserving water quality. On June 7, 2006, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Water Transfers Proposed Rule. The proposed rule codified the Agency's position that the NPDES provision of the Clean Water Act (CWA) is inapplicable to water transfers, and that the movement of water during the transfer does not constitute an "addition" of a pollutant under the CWA, even when the source water contains pollutants the receiving water does not. The EPA asserts that its proposed rule will facilitate the implementation of water transfers by exempting them from certain requirements under the Clean Water Act. The proposed rule was a response to the 2004 Supreme Court decision, South Florida Water Management District v. Miccosukee Tribe of Indians, wherein the Court left open the critical question of whether a permit would be required when a water transfer results in the addition of pollutants into the receiving water. To explore the context and evaluate the implications of the proposed rule, this Comment examines the development of water transfer case law preceding the rule, analyzes the proposed rule in light of this precedent and the Miccosukee case, and evaluates its viability based on the plain meaning of applicable CWA provisions, statutory construction, and congressional intent.


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