United States v. Riverside Bayview Homes, Inc.
474 U.S. 121 (1985)

  • The Clean Water Act 301 prohibits discharges to "navigable waters" without a permit (issued by the US Army Corps of Engineers, pursuant to 404).
    • Clean Water Act 502(7) defines "navigable waters" to mean "the waters of the United States, including territorial seas."
      • That's a pretty vague definition.
      • It was written to cover "navigable waters" so that the Federal government could have the authority to regulate it under the Interstate Commerce Clause.
    • 98-99% of all waters in the US would not be considered "navigable", in that you can't drive a boat on them, but a lot feed into the major navigable rivers and lakes.
  • Riverside owned 80 acres of wetland in Michigan. They began dumping fill materials from housing construction into the wetland.
    • The particular wetland in question was near a lake, but didn't feed directly into the lake, so Riverside felt that they did not need a permit.
  • The US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) felt that Riverside did need a permit before they dumped waste into the wetland and sued for an injunction.
    • The USACE felt that the wetland met the definition of an adjacent wetland.
  • The Trial Court found that the low-lying potion of the wetland was covered as an adjacent wetland to navigable waters and a permit was required. Riverside appealed.
  • The Appellate Court remanded.
    • The Appellate Court told the Trial Court to look at the 1977 amendments to the Clean Water Act.
  • The Trial Court came to the same conclusion as before. Riverside appealed.
  • The Appellate Court reversed. USACE appealed.
    • The Appellate Court found that the wetlands were "not subject to flooding by adjacent navigable waters" and so weren't covered.
      • Basically, the Appellate Court said that polluting a body of water is only covered if that pollution can move into a navigable water. In this case, the pollution Riverside was dumping would likely stay in the wetland and not seep into the nearby lake, so it was not covered.
  • The US Supreme Court reversed and held that a permit was required.
    • The US Supreme Court found that it is difficult to define where "water" begins and "land" ends, so it is a challenge for the USACE to determine where their authority ends.
    • The Court decided to interpret the term "waters of the United States" broadly, and found that the USACE's ecological judgment about the relationship between waters and their adjacent wetlands provides an adequate basis for legal judgment that adjacent wetlands may be defined as waters under the act.
      • Basically, the Court said that waters covered under the act include any waters that the USACE reasonably concludes may affect the water quality of adjacent lakes rivers and streams, even when the waters of those bodies do not actually inundate the wetlands.
  • Basically, the Court said that since it is difficult to define jurisdictional boundaries with precision, it's best to leave it up to the scientists to use a functional approach to the jurisdictional reach of the Clean Water Act.