Intrastate watersheds and a much broader range of wetlands would come under federal regulatory control if Congress passes the Clean Water Restoration Act (HR 2421/S 1870). The legislation would essentially cancel a Supreme Court decision from last June. The measure set aside a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decision to require owners of properties classified as wetlands to secure a federal permit before making changes to their lands.

The court ruled the Corps' interpretation of the Clean Water Act's jurisdiction of “navigable waters” as too broad. The bill replaces the term “navigable waters” with the term “waters of the United States,” defined to mean all waters subject to the ebb and flow of the tide. That language would place prairie potholes, wet meadows, playa lakes, and natural ponds under the Corps' regulatory aegis. A number of states will oppose the bill, which they see as curtailing their jurisdiction, as will a number of business and farm groups. Its fate is very much up in the air.

A second Corps issue that Congress settled last year will have big implications in 2008 and beyond. The House and Senate overrode President Bush's Nov. 2 veto of the $23.2 billion Water Resource Development Act. The bill gives the Corps the green light to build 900-plus projects, including politically popular ones such as the Hurricane Katrina restoration of coastal Louisiana ($1.9 billion) and $3.6 billion for projects on the upper Mississippi River and Illinois Waterway system.

“We still have people in my state that don't have safe drinking water,” says Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), normally a strong backer of Bush. And remember: Congress still has to appropriate funds for each of the projects in the coming year, which won't necessarily be a slam dunk.

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