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How have changes in federal laws affected wetland development?

The Waters of the United States (WOTUS) Act expanded the protections available for waterways under the Clean Water Act. This law made it more difficult to develop land. In 2017, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to withdraw the WOTUS rule.

Two years have passed since the order was executed. The government is now analyzing data gathered on the impact of this order.

Has the order resulted in any change? In short, yes. Since President Trump signed the executive order there has been an increase in applications for permits to develop areas once protected by WOTUS.

Who has benefited from the change? According to a recent report, real estate developers have been able to take out larger numbers of permits than what was previously allowed for development projects that impinge on wetlands and waterways like streams.

Critics argue that President Trump executed the order under the guise of helping farmers hindered by WOTUS' regulations. They point to this data to suggest the opposite is true: the law will ultimately hurt the environment and only help developers, not farmers.

What is next? The first step involved repealing the rule with the order noted above. The second step  involves revising how the EPA defines "waters of the United States."

The agency's proposal defines waters of the United States to include navigable waters, interstate waters, impoundments, tributaries, ditches, lakes, ponds and wetlands. The proposal is currently up for public comment. The revised definition could impact development of land throughout the country in the favor of developers. As a result, we will post updates on the progression of this revision.

The debate provides an opportunity to remind developers of the need to conduct an analysis on potential property before moving forward with negotiations. When done correctly, this process can result in information about the property that could impact development plans.

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