BOISE – Federal agencies on Jan. 23 announced a new, final clean water rule that replaces the 2015 Waters of the United States (WOTUS) regulation that many farmers, ranchers and other water users had feared would greatly expand the federal government’s jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act over waters and adjacent land.
Supporters of the new rule said it will provide the regulatory clarity that farmers and other businesses need to make important decisions.
Many agricultural producers and other landowners had feared the proposed 2015 WOTUS rule would have required them to hire a team of lawyers to determine what they could do on their own land.
They were concerned that rule, which was repealed by EPA last year, would have expanded the EPA and Corps’ regulatory reach to nearly all waters nationwide.
According to an EPA news release, “The (new) rule provides a new, clear definition for ‘Waters of the United States,’ delivering on President Trump’s promise to finalize a revised definition for ‘Waters of the United States’ that protects the nation’s navigable waters from pollution and will result in economic growth across the country.”
“EPA and the (Army Corps) are providing much needed regulatory certainty and predictability for American farmers, landowners and businesses to support the economy and accelerate critical infrastructure projects,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in the news release. “After decades of landowners relying on expensive attorneys to determine what water on their land may or may not fall under federal regulations, our new (rule) strikes the proper balance between Washington and the states in managing land and water resources while protecting our nation’s navigable waters, and it does so within the authority Congress provided.”
According to a joint statement by members of the Water Advocacy Coalition, which includes American Farm Bureau Federation: “This new rule does not reduce or remove environmental protections of any waters; it simply brings clarity to which level of government oversees which body of water under the federal-state partnership established by the Clean Water Act.”
The coalition’s news release said the new rule clarifies which level of government – federal or state – oversees dry land that is sometimes wet, and does not change who oversees permanent waterways, such as lakes, rivers and streams.
“It does make clear that usually dry areas should not be considered federal waters,” the release states.
American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall, in a statement, said farmers and ranchers care about clean water and preserving the land.
“That’s why we support the new clean water rule,” he said. “It provides clarity and certainty, allowing farmers to understand water regulations without having to hire teams of consultants and lawyers. We appreciate the commitment of the agencies involved and this administration to crafting a new regulation that achieves important regulatory oversight while allowing farmers to farm. Clean water, clear rules.”
The EPA news release said the new rule ends decades of uncertainty over where federal jurisdiction begins and ends. For the first time, it says, EPA and the Army Corps recognize the difference between federally protected wetlands and state protected wetlands and the rule will give states and tribes the certainty to manage their waters in ways that best protect their natural resources and local economies.
During the Idaho Potato Conference and Ag Expo in Pocatello Jan. 23, the new rule was announced by Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator Chris Hladick and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Gen. Pete Helmlinger.
Hladick said everyone in Idaho and throughout the U.S. cares deeply about clean water and a healthy environment.
“I see today’s announcement as opening a new chapter of cooperation and partnership between the federal government, states, tribes and the agricultural community,” he said. “My sincere hope is that the new (rule) ends decades of litigation and confusion around ‘Waters of the U.S.’”
The new rule’s supporters said it is better for the economy and protects the environment.
The new rule identifies four clear categories of waters that are federally regulated under the Clean Water Act; territorial seas and traditional navigable waters; perennial and intermittent tributaries; certain lakes, ponds and impoundments; and wetlands that are adjacent to jurisdictional waters.
The rule also spells out what waters are not subject to federal control, including features that only contain water in direct response to rainfall; groundwater, many ditches, including most farm and roadside ditches; prior converted cropland; farm and stock watering ponds; and waste treatment systems.
“This action gives states and tribes more flexibility in determining how best to manage their land and water resources while protecting the nation’s navigable waters as intended by Congress when it enacted the Clean Water Act,” the EPA news release states.
The EPA and Corps received 6,000 recommendations and about 620,000 comments on the new rule while it was being proposed.
“The final definition balances the input the agencies received from a wide range of stakeholders,” the EPA news release states.
More information and fact sheets on the new rule are available online at www.epa.gov/nwpr.
All four members of Idaho’s congressional delegation lauded the new rule in a joint news release.
“After years of overreach and uncertainty, Idaho’s farmers, ranchers and landowners will finally have a rule that doesn’t confuse truly navigable waters with ditches and puddles,” said Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho.