In 1976, the St. Paul District regulatory staff consisted of four people (clerk included) that focused on evaluating projects under Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899. The scrutiny was largely of bridges, trestles, docks/piers and dams that had the potential to impede navigation.
However, with the passage of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972, subsequently referred to as the Clean Water Act, Corps regulatory jurisdiction was greatly expanded to include “waters of the United States.” Corps headquarters sought to limit the expansion of jurisdiction but were rebuffed by the March 27, 1975, decision of the U. S. District Court for the District of Columbia in Natural Resources Defense Council vs. Calloway.
To accommodate the court’s directive, the Corps expanded its jurisdiction in a three-step process by issuing regulations in 1977 that brought many lakes, rivers, streams and wetlands into the Corps regulatory purview. The result was a substantial increase in the size of the regulatory staff, and a shift from a focus on primarily navigation to the protection of the physical, chemical and biological integrity of the nation’s waters.
The jurisdictional expansion also created confusion for landowners and other federal, state and local regulatory agencies since the Corps civil works jurisdictional boundaries were based on watersheds – not readily known by proponents whose projects might overlap watershed boundaries and who then needed to apply for permits from more than one Corps regulatory office. This problem was identified early by the St. Paul District Regulatory Branch and approval was sought from our Washington, D.C., headquarters to negotiate with our sister districts to re-organize the regulatory program on state boundaries. The requested action was approved.
Through a set of Memorandums of Agreements, the St. Paul District:
- Ceded its regulatory jurisdiction over North and South Dakota waters to the Omaha District in exchange for their jurisdiction over waters in southwestern Minnesota.
- Granted regulatory jurisdiction to the Rock Island District for waters in south central Minnesota in exchange for their jurisdiction over waters in southeastern Minnesota and southwestern Wisconsin.
- Relinquished our regulatory jurisdiction over the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to the Detroit District in exchange for their jurisdiction over waters in eastern and central Wisconsin.
- The Chicago District ceded its small Fox River watershed in southeastern Wisconsin to the St. Paul District, so that the entire state of Wisconsin came under the regulatory jurisdiction of the St. Paul District.
In summary, as a result of the above noted inter-district regulatory agreements, any proponent of a water development project in the states of Minnesota and Wisconsin was clearly made aware that they had only to make a permit application to the St. Paul District. This greatly clarified and expedited the permit review process for landowners and coordinating federal, state and local regulatory agencies.