Clean Water Rule released | TSLN.com

Clean Water Rule released

Jerry Hagstrom

The EPA has released the Clean Water Rule for a 60-day comment period. Ag interests are concerned about the rule giving more power to the federal government, but the EPA assures that won't happen. Photo by Maria Tussing.

The Obama administration today is releasing the controversial Clean Water Rule that is designed to protect the nation's drinking water, but is the subject of much criticism from farm leaders and some members of Congress who still refer to it by its original name, the Waters of the United States rule.

The administration published the rule at 10:30 a.m. It will be effective 60 days after publication in the Federal Register. (See links below)

In a call to selected reporters, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said that the nation's health, the economy and Supreme Court decisions made the rule necessary.

In an area of most interest to farmers, McCarthy said the rule would cover prairie potholes, ditches and other unique water bodies but only if they meet the definition of a tributary, which means they contribute to downstream water flow.

The decisions on prairie potholes and other unique bodies will have to be made on a case-by-case basis, she said.

"We are doing that without creating any new permitting requirements and maintaining all previous exemptions and exclusions," McCarthy said.

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The rule "is actually fairly short and precise in its language," she added.

"The rule only protects waters historically covered under the Clean Water Act," McCarthy and Assistant Secretary for the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy wrote in a joint blog post.

"It doesn't interfere with private property rights, and it only covers water — not land use. It also doesn't regulate most ditches, doesn't regulate groundwater or shallow subsurface flows, and doesn't change policy on irrigation or water transfers," the blog post says.

"This rule is based on science," McCarthy said on the call, adding that the agency has received more than a million comments that were used in writing the final rule.

"This rule is about certainty," White House senior adviser Brian Deese said on the call. "The status quo is rife with unsustainable confusion."

Under the current situation, the Army Corps has found its work very difficult, Darcy said on the call. "Erosional features and gullies are not covered," she noted.

Some senators have accused McCarthy of conducting a social media campaign to encourage positive comments on the rule, but McCarthy said she would welcome a Government Accountability Office investigation.

The agency has held more than 400 meetings as part of an outreach effort to inform the public about the rule. "Using social media is clearly a part of that effort unless someone wants us to go back to the stone age," she said.

"There is no way in the world we have crossed any legal line," she added.

McCarthy referred frequently to farmers during the call she, Deese and Darcy made to reporters. She said there are "no new requirements for agriculture" and that the rule "doesn't interfere with private property."

"Farmers, ranchers and foresters are all original conservationists and we recognize that," she said.

Deese told the North American Agricultural Journalists in April that despite criticism from farm leaders, he believes the administration is "winning the science-based arguments."

"That said, there is no question there is a well-funded and coordinated opposition," he said.

"We have to be aggressive and creative about getting our message out. When you are able to identify impacts that affect people locally and how it affects their health or their kids, they perk up."

In what is likely to be a sample of the comments to come from critics, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., issued the following statement before the rule was released:

"Instead of reaching a reasonable solution, today the EPA has ignored millions of Americans and taken more control over private land in our country.

"There is bipartisan agreement that Washington bureaucrats have gone beyond their authority and have no business regulating irrigation ditches, isolated ponds and other 'non-navigable' waters as waters of the United States. Under this outrageously broad rule, Washington will have control over how family farmers, ranchers and small businesses not only use their water, but also their privately owned land."

But Trout Unlimited said the nation's anglers stand firmly behind the rule because it will "protect America's headwater streams from unchecked development while still allowing reasonable leeway when it comes to water use by agriculture and industry all across the country."

"The waters this rule protects are the sources of our nation's coldest, cleanest water," said Trout Unlimited President and CEO Chris Wood.

"Not only do these waters provide the needed spawning and rearing waters for our trout and salmon, they are the sources of our iconic rivers and streams — they provide the water we all use downstream. The EPA and the Corps were right to craft this thoughtful rule in a way that protects our headwaters and our fish, but also protects the downstream uses of our nation's water."

–The Hagstrom Report