Rapanos v. United States

As relevant here, the Clean Water Act (CWA or Act) makes it unlawful to discharge dredged or fill material into “navigable waters” without a permit, 33 U. S. C. §§1311(a), 1342(a), and defines “navigable waters” as “the waters of the United States, including the territorial seas,” §1362(7). The Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), which issues permits for the discharge of dredged or fill material into navigable waters, interprets “the waters of the United States” expansively to include not only traditional navigable waters, 33 CFR §328.3(a)(1), but also other defined waters, §328.3(a)(2), (3); “[t]ributaries” of such waters, §328.3(a)(5); and wetlands “adjacent” to such waters and tributaries, §328.3(a)(7). “[A]djacent” wetlands include those “bordering, contiguous [to], or neighboring” waters of the United States even when they are “separated from [such] waters … by man-made dikes … and the like.” §328.3(c).

      These cases involve four Michigan wetlands lying near ditches or man-made drains that eventually empty into traditional navigable waters. In No. 04–1034, the United States brought civil enforcement proceedings against the Rapanos petitioners, who had backfilled three of the areas without a permit. The District Court found federal jurisdiction over the wetlands because they were adjacent to “waters of the United States” and held petitioners liable for CWA violations. Affirming, the Sixth Circuit found federal jurisdiction based on the sites’ hydrologic connections to the nearby ditches or drains, or to more remote navigable waters. In No. 04–1384, the Carabell petitioners were denied a permit to deposit fill in a wetland that was separated from a drainage ditch by an impermeable berm. The Carabells sued, but the District Court found federal jurisdiction over the site. Affirming, the Sixth Circuit held that the wetland was adjacent to navigable waters.