Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899

The Rivers and Harbors Appropriation Act of 1899 is the oldest federal environmental law in the United States.[1] The Act makes it a misdemeanor to discharge refuse matter of any kind into the navigable waters, or tributaries thereof, of the United States without a permit; this specific provision is known as the Refuse Act. The Act also makes it a misdemeanor to excavate, fill, or alter the course, condition, or capacity of any port, harbor, channel, or other areas within the reach of the Act without a permit. The Act also made it illegal to dam navigable streams without a license (or permit) from Congress; this included for the purposes of hydroelectric generation, at a time when the electric utility industry was expanding rapidly.[2]

Section 10 states that "All waters subject to the ebb and flow of the tide (tidal action) are navigable waters of the US". The Jacksonville Division of the United States Army Corps of Engineers has jurisdiction over the waters of the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.[3]

Although many activities covered by the Act are regulated under the Clean Water Act, the 1899 Act retains independent vitality. The Act is administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. However, authority to administer Section 9 of the Act, applying to bridges and causeways, in/over/on navigable waters of the U.S. (superseded by the General Bridge Act of 1946, as amended), was removed from the Corps of Engineers and redelgated to the U.S. Coast Guard under the provisions of the Department of Transportation Act of 1966. The Corps owns and operates many bridges and may not regulate themselves due to conflict of interest.

See also


  • Franz, Andrew (Summer 2010). "Crimes Against Water: The Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899". Tulane Environmental Law Journal. 23 (2): 255–278. JSTOR 43294085.
  1. March 3, 1899, Ch. 425, Sec. 9, 30 Stat. 1151. 33 U.S.C. § 407.
  2. Charles K. McFarland, The Federal Government and Water Power, 1901-1913: A Legislative Study in the Nascence of Regulation, Land Economics, pp 441-452 Vol. 42, No. 4, Nov., 1966
  3. "Jacksonville District Navigable Waters Lists" (PDF). saj.usace.army.mil. SAJ. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2017-01-26. Retrieved 18 February 2019.
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