Section 404. Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (PL 92-500, 86 Stat. 816, 33 U.S.C. 1344) authorizes the Secretary of the Army, acting through the Chief of Engineers, to regulate the discharge of dredged or fill material into waters of the United States.
Initially, the Corps of Engineers limited its regulatory under Section 404 to "navigable waters of the United States," waters which are defined as those waters which are presently used, were used in the past, or could be used with reasonable improvements to transport interstate commerce (traditional). Limiting the Corps' authority under Section 404 to "navigable waters of the United States" was successfully challenged in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. On March 27, 1975 the Court directed the Corps of Engineers to extend its responsibility to regulate the discharge of dredged or fill material under Section 404 to all "waters of the United States" (404) and to revise its regulations accordingly.
The Court's ruling increased the Corps' permit and regulatory jurisdiction under Section 404 dramatically, extending jurisdiction from "navigable waters of the United States" (traditional) to all "waters of the United States" (404).
Waters of the United States (404). For purposes of Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, these waters are administratively defined for inland fresh waters as follows:
(1) the traditional "navigable waters of the United States" including adjacent wetlands;
(2) all tributaries to "navigable waters of the United States" including adjacent wetlands (man-made drainage and irrigation ditches excavated on dry land are not considered "waters of the United States" under this definition);
(3) interstate waters and their tributaries, including adjacent wetlands;
(4) other waters of the United States, such as, isolated wetland and lakes, intermittent streams, prairie potholes, and other waters the degradation and destruction of which could affect interstate commerce.
The landward Section 404 regulatory limit for non-tidal waters in the absence of adjacent wetlands is the ordinary high water mark. Wetlands bordering contiguous or neighboring waters of the United States are considered "adjacent wetlands;" which are subject to regulations pursuant to Section 404.
"Wetlands are areas inundated or saturated by surface or ground water at a frequency and duration sufficient to support, and under normal circumstances do support, a prevalence of vegetation typically adapted for life in saturated soil conditions. Wetlands generally include swamps, marshes, bogs, and similar areas.
Phased Program. The regulation and enforcement under Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 is essentially unchanged; however, the dramatic expansion of the regulatory jurisdiction areas under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act required the implementation of an effective transitional program. The Corps of Engineers chose to exert this jurisdiction in a three-phase program, adopted to permit reasonable and manageable implementation, ensuring that the water quality of public waters was protected from the irresponsible and unregulated discharge of dredged or fill material that could permanently destroy or alter the character of valuable resources. The last phase of the program became effective on July 1, 1977, when the Corps began exercising regulatory authority under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act to the fullest extent of the jurisdictional limits set forth in the Act.