Petitioners Michael and Chantell Sackett were accused of violating the Clean Waters Act after they began filling their property at Priest Lake, Idaho with dirt.

The Supreme Court narrowed the definition of “Waters of the United States” — also known as WOTUS — in Sackett v. EPA, ruling in favor of an Idaho couple on May 25. 

In January, the Environmental Protection Agency published an expanded definition of WOTUS that would have gone into effect a few months later. Multiple governors and attorneys general urged the President to delay implementation until after the Supreme Court ruled on the issue. 

Vague and uncertain definitions have led to decades of litigation and lawsuits since the EPA created WOTUS in 1972. 

“Before its enactment in 1972, many of the nation’s rivers, lakes and streams were severely polluted, and existing federal legislation had proved to be inadequate,” the Supreme Court’s opinion said. “Today, many formerly fetid bodies of water are safe for the use and enjoyment of the people of this country. There is, however, an unfortunate footnote to this success story: the outer boundaries of the Act’s geographical reach have been uncertain from the start.”

Political response

Here’s what Idaho’s congressional delegation had to say. 

Representative Mike Simpson said regulation will resemble regulation under Navigable Waters Protection Rule, a rule Simpson helped write. According to the Property and Environment Research Center, the rule maintains the protection of many categories of water but significantly reduces the range of protected wetlands

“I am glad to see the Court provide needed clarity on this issue,” Simpson said. “The EPA simply cannot continue in its attempt to regulate every puddle, ditch, and stream in this country. This decision is a victory for Idaho and the many property owners, farmers and ranchers who are left to deal with the very real consequences of regulatory uncertainty.”

Other Idaho leaders also saw the ruling as a win for ranchers, farmers and other landowners.

“The Supreme Court’s decision to reject the EPA’s expanded definition of WOTUS and uphold the rights of the Sackett family to build their home on their own property stands as a powerful affirmation of individual property rights,” stated Congressman Russ Fulcher. 

“The federal government had no right to use the Clean Water Act to usurp the rights of states and personal property owners,” said Senator Jim Risch. “The top court decisively ruled in favor of Americans everywhere.” 

Senator Mike Crapo expressed gratitude for the increased clarity found in the definition of WOTUS.

“This Supreme Court ruling curbs the Environmental Protection Agency’s long-held history of unlawfully expanding the intended purpose of the Clean Water Act,” Crapo said. “We are thankful there is now much-needed clarity to EPA’s conflicting definitions that have negatively affected landowners for years.”