Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899

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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 Rivers and Harbors 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 Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 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]

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9 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899, applying to bridges and causeways, in/over/on navigable waters of the U.S. (superseded by the General Bridge Act of 1946, as amended), was removed from the Corps of Engineers and redelgated to the U.S. Coast Guard under the provisions of the DOT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

Congress passed an act of the same name in 1882, and overrode a veto by President Arthur.

See also[edit]


  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