December 20, 2019

State water quality certification: What’s all the fuss about?

Susan L. Stephens

Recent proposed amendments to rules implementing the Clean Water Act may substantially change the way states and tribes interact with federal agencies on permits affecting water quality. The extent of the changes will vary program to program and state to state, as discussed below.

Under section 401 of the Clean Water Act (CWA), a federal agency cannot issue a permit or license for activities or projects that may discharge to a navigable water without the appropriate sign-off from the states or authorized tribes (hereinafter states/tribes) where the discharge will occur. Specifically, states/tribes must certify that the discharge will comply with their water quality requirements—or waive certification.

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