The U.S. Supreme Court last week heard oral arguments in a case that help will determine the extent of the government’s jurisdiction over “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) under the Clean Water Act.  

The case, Sackett v. EPA, involves a long-running dispute between two Idaho landowners and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over an area of their property deemed wetlands by the agency. According to the landowners’ lawyer, the property lacks a surface water connection to any stream, creek, lake, or other water body, and therefore shouldn’t be subject to federal regulation and permitting. 

Earlier this year, the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation joined 20 other state Farm Bureaus to file an amicus brief with the Supreme Court arguing that the EPA has exceeded its authority by trying to regulate waters that do not fall under the definition of WOTUS in the Clean Water Act. 

During last week’s hearing, many questions from the justices focused on the definition of “adjacent” waters and on how landowners are able to identify whether a water is a WOTUS and understand whether they may be regulated.

The definition of what the government considers to be “Waters of the U.S.” has swung back and forth over the past several years through different administrations and court interpretations. 

The EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers currently are in the first step of a “2-Step” WOTUS rulemaking, despite numerous requests from Congress and agriculture groups to pause the effort until the Supreme Court rules. 

Last year, the Biden administration initiated Step 1 of the new rulemaking process, putting in place an expansive definition of WOTUS similar in scope to the 2015 regulation. The final Step 1 rule is expected later this year. 

The Supreme Court is expected to issue its ruling on the Sackett case in early 2023.