Farmers and ranchers are once again worried about the water rights on their land. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of the Army announced their intent to revise the definition of “waters of the United States,” also known as WOTUS.
The agriculture industry has been battling this fight for many years. The 2015 WOTUS Rule expanded the definition of “waters of the United States” and gave the federal government authority to regulate almost any waters; including streams, ditches, ponds, and creeks. After many years of discussions, court challenges, and a new administration, Navigable Waters Protection Rule (NWPR) was finalized. In April of 2020, the NWPR revised the definition of WOTUS and reversed this overreach, which finally brought clarity and certainty to clean water efforts.
However, after yesterday’s announcement from the EPA, the sage continues. In the statement, EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said, “After reviewing the Navigable Waters Protection Rule as directed by President Biden, the EPA and Department of the Army have determined that this rule is leading to significant environmental degradation.”
Agriculture groups were disappointed to hear the intention to reverse the current Navigable Waters Protection Rule.
American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall said, “Administrator Regan recently recognized the flaws in the 2015 Waters of the U.S. Rule and pledged not to return to those overreaching regulations. We are deeply concerned that the EPA plans to reverse the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, which puts the future of responsible protections at risk. We expected extensive outreach, but today’s announcement fails to recognize the concerns of farmers and ranchers.
“We call on EPA to respect the statute, recognize the burden that overreaching regulation places on farmers and ranchers, and not write the term ‘navigable’ out of the Clean Water Act. On this issue, and particularly prior converted croplands and ephemerals, we also urge Secretary Vilsack to ensure that we don’t return to the regulatory land grab that was the 2015 WOTUS Rule.”
Duvall emphasized that farmers and ranchers care about clean water and preserving the land, and should be allowed to do their job. “Clean water and clarity are paramount, and that is why farmers shouldn’t need a team of lawyers and consultants to farm.”
According to the EPA, the agencies’ new regulatory effort will be guided by the following considerations:
- Protecting water resources and our communities consistent with the Clean Water Act.
- The latest science and the effects of climate change on our waters.
- Emphasizing a rule with a practical implementation approach for state and Tribal partners.
- Reflecting the experience of and input received from landowners, the agricultural community that fuels and feeds the world, states, Tribes, local governments, community organizations, environmental groups, and disadvantaged communities with environmental justice concerns.