Repeal of federal water rule brings comfort to agricultural communities

The Durango Herald
September 19, 2019

By Ayelet Sheffey

Environmentalist says EPA is ignoring good science

Lawmakers, ranchers and agriculturalists are lauding last week’s decision by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers to repeal the 2015 Waters of the United States rule.

The WOTUS rule defines all bodies of water that fall under U.S. federal jurisdiction, and it was established in response to concern from legislators and experts about the lack of clarity over the scope of the jurisdiction. However, the rule has received backlash from agricultural communities and lawmakers because it allows the federal government to control most bodies of water, including those already regulated by states, placing essentially no limits on the EPA’s control.

Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., applauded the repeal of the WOTUS rule, calling it a “victory for Colorado’s farmers, cattlemen, ranchers and small business owners.”

“This burdensome regulation from the Obama administration would have been harmful to Colorado’s economy and especially our agriculture community,” Gardner said in a news release. “(The) announcement is welcome news and finally prevents an unconstitutional takeover of Colorado’s rivers, streams and local waterways.”

Colorado farmers and cattlemen also supported the repeal, including Colin Woodall, senior vice president of Government Affairs at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, who referred to the rule as “overly burdensome.”

“Cattle producers are a part of the solution when it comes to clean water, so we are thankful this nightmare is over,” Woodall said in a statement. “We look forward to working with EPA to finalize a replacement rule, which respects private property rights.”

La Plata County resident Tom Compton, who is former president of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, also expressed concern with the strict guidelines that the WOTUS rule would have placed on farmers and ranchers.

“Our local, state and national organizations have spent a lot of effort trying to change people’s minds in Washington, and that was one of our top priorities for a couple of years,” Compton said. “We certainly expect that there are going to be regulations for water sources, so we accept those and deal with them, but when they talked about regulating mud puddles, it really concerned us.”

Water is something that generally cannot be controlled in terms of weather, Compton said, so strictly regulating water usage would only increase challenges that the agriculture communities face.

Compton likened the WOTUS rule to the 1041 Regulations that were debated at a hearing Tuesday in La Plata County, and while he said that the powers “might be reasonable,” farmers and ranchers tend to get concerned when new regulations are introduced.

“Regulations that come down are sometimes interpreted as regulations by folks that don’t really know what life is like on the ground,” Compton said. “They become more and more burdensome and onerous, so it can be disconcerting when a new set of regulations show up and have a tendency to tie your hands as to what you can and cannot do.”

However, some environmental groups are concerned with the repeal of the rule, such as Marcel Gaztambide, Animas riverkeeper with the San Juan Citizens Alliance.

“The Clean Water Act is created in the recognition of two simple facts: that waterways are connected and that pollution moves downstream,” Gaztambide said. “We are opposed to the EPA’s new proposal because it ignores what we consider to be good science, and it ignores the hydrologic reality when it comes to how water moves through our system.”

The repeal of the 2015 rule also ignores the ecological functions that wetlands play, such as improving water quality and flood control, Gaztambide said, and removing protections for those wetlands could have a big impact.

Gardner has consistently denounced the WOTUS rule since its introduction in 2015, and like other people in Colorado, he believes that the elimination of the rule will be an improvement to agriculture.

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