The terms “navigable waters” and “waters of the United States” are the focal point for jurisdictional determinations under the Clean Water Act. The courts have for years attempted to interpret Congress’ intent in asserting jurisdiction over “navigable waters,” which is further defined as “waters of the United States” in the Act. The courts have generally interpreted the Act and Congress’ intent broadly when it comes to the coverage of the term “navigable waters.” Then, on January 9, 2001, the Supreme Court decided the landmark case of Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (SWANCC), 500 U.S. 159. In SWANCC, the Supreme Court determined that the Act cannot be read so broadly as to encompass nonnavigable, isolated waters, such as the abandoned gravel pit at issue in the case. This seminal decision has invigorated the debate over the scope of jurisdiction over the Act. Legal counsel must now constantly evaluate existing case law and attempt to provide some clarity on what has become a rather unclear topic.
This compendium has been developed as a tool for use by legal practitioners and individuals in the field who are faced with jurisdictional determinations under the Act.
The compendium provides a history of the case law and includes summaries of over sixty cases related to the federal government’s jurisdiction over “navigable waters.” To provide some historical perspective, this document begins with some very early cases related to the federal government’s regulation of waterways as highways of interstate commerce. The compendium then shifts to the more relevant cases related to water pollution control. Included as Appendix A is a useful matrix that briefly summarizes each case.
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