SJ Quinney College of Law, University of Utah


In 1972, Congress passed a statute whose text offered sweeping protection for waterways across the nation. In theory, those protections extended to little streams. Actual practices were different, not just in the 1970s but also well into the 1990s. But over the past twenty years, small streams have become a central focus of regulatory protection, with the extent and type of those protections continuing to evolve to this day, and with additional changes still possible. The future of that evolution is uncertain, and it may hang in the balance; Congress, the incoming administration, or the courts could nip much of this progress in the bud. But so long as it lasts, the story of little streams illustrates the continuing ability of environmental law to evolve and change, and the incremental—and often unnoticed—ways in which those changes occur.