SCOTUS on WOTUS: Property Rights v. Water Protection

Oct 7, 2022

WOTUS is back in the news… again.

On Monday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Sackett v. EPA—a case that will have significant implications for agriculture.

What’s the scoop? When the Sacketts (no, not the Louis L’Amour characters) began building a house on their property near Priest Lake over 15 years ago, the EPA basically said, “Hold your horses there, partner.”

The issue? The EPA said they were building on a protected wetland that was connected via groundwater to Priest Lake… a body of water under the jurisdiction of the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule.

And that’s a no-go.

But the Sacketts disagree, and both parties have been locked in a legal battle to determine who’s right ever since.

Vocabulary test: Reminiscent of a grammar school lesson, it seems that the Supremes’ decision will come down to the Court’s definition of one word:


When determining what the Clean Water Act actually protects, the EPA currently claims a wetland to be under its protective jurisdiction if it’s “adjacent” to navigable water.

But that term is not defined.

Comments from the justices seem to indicate that their opinions vary widely, but as the EPA is set to determine what’s included in the WOTUS rule by the end of the year, ag groups are pushing the EPA to hold off.

Where this goes: The Court is set to hand down a decision next spring. Will the EPA wait for a SCOTUS decision? What will the Court decide?

Who knows? But whatever happens, you can bet that agriculture will be impacted… for better or for worse.