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Water Under The Bridge

Written by Dennis Sun

We have all heard about waters of the U.S. rule and how it has placed the deer in the headlights look in the eyes of ranchers, farmers, construction, homebuilders and other natural resource users. It is not that all of these groups of hard working people just go around and pollute our nation’s waters, but they realize that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may, and has shown up on doorways with a $20,000-a-day fine that was proven unwarranted.

Those in the current administration claim that the change in the Clean Water Act is needed after different U.S. Supreme Court decisions blurred everybody’s understanding of what defines a “water of the U.S.” USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said, “Clearly, when the Supreme Court created confusion with the two lawsuits, there needed to be clarity.”

The EPA came out with the final rule last week, and while this did surprise a lot of people, most in agriculture were shocked to find out how the EPA promoted and received comments. Basically they went out on Facebook and other media and asked the public, “Do you want clean water?” As can be expected, everyone wants clean water. Most of us have always had clean water and have taken it for granted. But if someone wants to shut down an activity like grazing, water is the easiest way to do it, and with this rule it will get easier no matter the quality of those waters.

Some say the final rule more precisely defines “tributaries” as waters that are characterized by the presence of physical indicators of flow, bed, banks and an ordinary high water mark and that contribute flow directly or indirectly to a traditional navigable water, an interstate water or the territorial seas. The rule concludes that such tributaries are “waters of the U.S.” The final rule also addresses the question of what exactly are adjacent waters for the purpose of establishing a “significant nexus” to larger water bodies.

All of Wyoming’s congressional delegation is opposed to this rule, and we applaud them for fighting for us. Senator Pat Roberts from Kansas, who is also the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, was critical of the final rule and how the EPA has handled it to this point. He said the regulations go 88 pages long in the Federal Register.

“I defy anybody to determine whether they come under the waters of the U.S. with some kind of regulation,” he said.

Senator Roberts said he was more upset with EPA’s push during the comment period to push environmental organizations to all comment about the importance of clean water without any detail or real explanation. “Do you want clean water? Well, of course you want clean water. So all of these comments come in, and they stacked the deck. Then Gina McCarthy, head of EPA, had the temerity to come out and say 90 percent wrote in support of the U.S. waters rule because they like clean water. Well, everybody likes clean water. What would you say? Do you think farmers and ranchers like dirty water?”

So now that water under the bridge is more regulated than ever.