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Section 404 of the Clean Water Act

Applying Section 401 Certification to Protect Wetlands

In 1988, the National Wetlands Policy Forum recommended that States "make more aggressive use of their certification authorities under Section 401 of the CWA to protect their wetlands from chemical and other types of alterations." In response, in 1989, EPA issued a handbook for States and Tribes on applying Section 401 certification to protect wetlands. A year later, EPA issued guidance on developing water quality standards specifically for wetlands. In the 2000s EPA worked with the Association of State Wetlands ManagersExitand the Environmental Law InstituteExitto document the structure and practices of state wetlands programs including water quality certification programs. These projects also provided forums for states and tribes to share challenges and best practices. In 2010, EPA issued an interim handbook on water quality certification  highlighting many practices of state and tribal certification authorities across the country and some of the major case law from the federal courts. 

In 2016 EPA released templates for developing narrative wetland water quality standards.  While existing water quality standards for surface waters are often applied to wetlands, wetland-specific standards may provide better protection of their different functions and vulnerabilities. Wetlands exist as ecosystems along the margins (land–sea, land–lake, land–river) and in depressional landscapes (e.g., prairie potholes in the Midwest and kettle-hole wetlands in the northern U.S.). Wetland-specific water quality standards help to provide additional protection for wetlands through water quality certification and other programs.