Press Release

In the Wake of Sackett v. EPA, Izaak Walton League Launches Multi-Year Campaign to Protect Clean Water


Rolling back protections for small streams directly threatens public health

Drawing on its 101-year history of protecting clean water and wetlands, the Izaak Walton League has launched a multi-year campaign to mitigate the potential damage from the recent Sackett v. EPA decision. That unprecedented opinion from the Supreme Court rolled back 50 years of Clean Water Act protections for wetlands and tributary streams.

Ignoring the clear purpose of the law, congressional intent and science, the five-justice majority in Sackett defined the types of waters covered by the Clean Water Act more narrowly than any previous decision and more narrowly than Congress clearly intended and the way EPA and the Army Corps have implemented the law for decades.

Scott Kovarovics, executive director of the Izaak Walton League of America, said, “Rolling back protections for small streams directly threatens public health. EPA analysis shows that one of every three Americans get drinking water from reservoirs and other public systems that are fed in whole or in part by intermittent or ephemeral streams.”

“The Izaak Walton League will immediately work to reduce harms from these changes through our national network of volunteer water quality monitors, enforcement of state and local clean water standards and building grassroots pressure on Congress to clarify that the Clean Water Act protects wetlands and tributary streams.

“Restoring durable protections for the nation’s waters ultimately depends on Congress amending the Clean Water Act to specifically include tributary streams, wetlands and other waters in the definition of ‘waters of the United States.’”

Eyes on the Water

Nationwide, thousands of Izaak Walton League volunteers and members monitor water quality locally through programs such as Save Our Streams, Salt Watch and Nitrate Watch. They provide a powerful rapid-response capability for testing waters and alerting local authorities about changes in water quality. These volunteers are among the first to detect pollution or wetland drainage.

League staff have already begun to provide guidance about specific steps volunteers can take if they witness something that seems unusual or see test results measuring elevated levels of pollution.

How Sackett Has Eroded Clean Water Rules

The scope of the damage from the Sackett decision was not fully known until the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers recently revised their Clean Water Act regulations as required by the decision. Some of the key changes to those regulations follow:

  • If a wetland does not have a continuous surface water connection to a river, lake or the ocean, it can be drained and filled without a Clean Water Act permit. The EPA estimates that 60 million acres of wetlands in the United States do not have a continuous surface connection and therefore can be drained and filled without limit under the Clean Water Act.
  • The EPA and Army Corps have removed “interstate wetlands” from the definition of “interstate waters” that are covered by the Clean Water Act. Now these wetlands, which affect water quality, migratory wildlife and drinking water supplies in other states, are not afforded the same protection as other interstate waters. 
  • The agencies’ regulations now safeguard tributaries of larger waters only if those tributaries “are relatively permanent, standing or continuously flowing bodies of water.” This excludes ephemeral streams (which only flow after rains or melting snow) and many intermittent streams (which do not flow perennially).  

Read more about Sackett v. EPA

Founded in 1922, the Izaak Walton League fights for clean air and water, healthy fish and wildlife habitat and conservation of our natural resources for future generations. The League plays a unique role in supporting community-based science and local conservation and has a long legacy of shaping sound national policy. See


Michael Reinemer, Communications Director,; 301-548-0150 ext. 220

Jared Mott, Conservation Director,; 301-548-0150, ext. 224

    • Sackett v EPA
    • Supreme Court
    • Clean Water Act
    • wetlands
    • News

    Newsletter Sign Up