Support New Rules
In June 2017, the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began a two-step process to review and revise the definition of “waters of the U.S.” under the Clean Water Act, proposing to first rescind the 2015 WOTUS rule while they worked to develop a new lawful and rational definition. This was in the wake of several court rulings blocking the 2015 rule, which never went into effect nationwide.
Last week, EPA published for comment a new proposed clean water rule to replace the flawed 2015 WOTUS rule. The details will take some time to sort out — and there may be room for improvement on the latest proposal. But there’s no question that this is good news for farmers and ranchers who have faced a tangled web of confusing and unclear rules that have left us uncertain of whether we can even farm our own land.
The 2015 WOTUS rule was so broad and vague that a farmer or rancher would have no idea whether any ditch, swale or pond on his or her farm was subject to federal regulation. But the uncertainty in the rule goes back for decades. For too long, the only way to really know what features were protected has been to go to the U.S. Supreme Court — and few had the resources for that. Meanwhile, farmers have been cited and fined for doing things as commonplace as plowing a field or switching crops, just because rainwater drains across the field.
Federal regulations shouldn’t be a game of gotcha. Landowners should have fair warning of what activities are regulated and what landscape features are protected as “waters of the U.S.” A farmer should be able to look across his or her farm and be able to tell what is and isn’t a federally regulated waterbody. We shouldn’t have to hire a team of lawyers, environmental engineers and consultants to help us guess whether we can farm our land.
Farmers care about clean water. We want to preserve and protect the natural resources on our farms for our children, so they can pass it on to their children. We have a vested interest in protecting the land and water because most of us want our farms to stay in the family for future generations.
Many farms in the U.S. have been in the family for three, four, five and six generations or more. Most states have Century Farms programs, which recognize farms that have been in the same family for more than 100 years. In 2013 there were 15,000 Century Farms in Iowa, 9,800 in Illinois, 8,583 in Wisconsin and 8,000 each in Minnesota, Missouri and Nebraska, just to name a few.
This says a lot about farmers’ and ranchers’ incentives to protect the natural resources on their land. We want to protect the land and water resources on our farms and ranches because we want to leave something of inherent and lasting value for generations to come. It doesn’t end with us. We want to leave behind more than a business, we want to leave a legacy.
Farmers and ranchers support clear rules that will protect water quality in our nation’s waterways. We are encouraged that EPA has proposed a new water rule aimed at providing a clear and reasonable definition of “waters of the U.S.” and protecting our nation’s water resources for future generations.
EPA will open a public comment period (we anticipate in January 2019) to take comments on the new water rule for at least 60 days. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to find out when the comment period opens. Let EPA know you support clear rules and clean water by leaving a comment.
West Virginia Farm Bureau