Water. It always has been and always will be a precious commodity for all. Whether you drink or shower with it, water your garden or flowers, provide it to animals to drink, water crops with it, or use it for recreation, it is necessary for all living beings – plants and animals!
What do WOTUS (Waters of the U.S.), the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), the American Farm Bureau and others have in common? Currently, the commonality is a discussion about a proposed change to the Clean Water Act to expand the definition of “waters of the United States” for additional regulatory jurisdiction over streams and wetlands. As you can imagine, when we start talking about water use and rights, there are conflicting emotions.
My friend and colleague, Dr. Amy Talks Ag recently provided a timely article I want to share with you below …
The proposed “Waters of the United States” rule was issued March 25, 2014 by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps). Since its initial publication, the proposed WOTUS rule has garnered a great deal of attention from concerned agricultural producers and prompted the EPA to address these concerns with a number of press releases, promotional materials, and educational webinars. The amount of information shared by advocates and opponents of the rule is staggering. So, where can you go to learn more about the rule and help you make an informed decision about how to comment on the rule to the EPA?
The EPA has developed a web page dedicated to clarifying what the rule does and does not do. While not particularly exciting or easy to read (let’s face it, regulatory documents are daunting and low on the list of “fun things to read!”), the published proposed rule from the Federal Register can be accessed from this website.
The American Farm Bureau Federation has developed a web page dedicated to sharing a number of resources from universities, commodity organizations, and other stakeholders who have reviewed and analyzed the proposed rule to determine whether the rule will be detrimental to agricultural producers: ditchtherule.fb.org. Included on this site is an interactive map designed to identify “waters” that would be newly regulated by the federal government under the proposed WOTUS rule, along with a number of state-specific brochures outlining the anticipated extent of the EPA’s jurisdiction of “waters” under the proposed rule.
The Bottom Line: Regulatory documents are seldom “cut and dried”, leaving a great deal of room for interpretation by the agencies who enforce the rules. Public comment periods are intended to give all interested and potentially affected parties an opportunity to read proposed regulations, determine where shortfalls or inadequacies exist, and provide feedback to impact the rule before it becomes final. Seldom does a proposed regulation or rule become finalized without changes, often significant changes, being implemented following the public comment period. Don’t miss your opportunity to share your thoughts on this proposed rule and voice your opinion and concerns about how it may benefit or harm your activities. The comment period has been extended to November 14, 2014.
Some may believe that persons involved in agriculture do not care about the quality of the water on or around their farm or ranch (arguably, the reason this new rule has been proposed). However, most agricultural producers (and I say “most” because every industry or sector of society has their deviants) are very respectful of their obligation to protect the environment and go to great lengths to do so, whether it is required under their regulatory operating permit or because it’s just the “right thing” to do. After all, they drink water from the same sources as their neighbors and they swim and fish in the same lakes and rivers! Interested in the perspective of an active cattle farmer? I encourage you to read a recent blog post about this topic from Anne Burkholder, a highly regarded Nebraska cattle feed yard owner and operator. In her post, Anne talks about the proposed WOTUS rule and provides examples of what she does to ensure environmental responsibility on her feed yard.