The following article is an op-ed by EPA Region 7 Administrator Karl Brooks.
Protecting Midwestern streams and wetlands under the Clean Water Act helps our communities and is vital to our health, safety, and quality of life. Rivers in Iowa – like the Des Moines, Cedar, Missouri, Mississippi, and Raccoon – along with their network of tributaries and wetlands, are important to water quality, recreation, wildlife habitat, flood abatement, and American agriculture.
Unfortunately, over the last decade, the Clean Water Act has been bogged down by confusion. Two complex court decisions muddled the law and we lost a clear understanding of which waters are protected, and which aren’t. Protections have been especially confusing for smaller, interconnected streams and wetlands.
Working jointly with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, we have released a proposed rule that clarifies which waters are protected by the law. Our proposal will smooth out wrinkles in the existing law; it does not add to or expand the scope of waters historically protected under the Clean Water Act.
The proposed rule does not change exemptions and exclusions for agriculture. We’ve worked closely with the agricultural community to avoid any surprises. The rule will not protect any new types of waters that haven’t historically been covered, and it will not regulate groundwater or tile drainage systems; and it will not increase regulation of ditches whether they are irrigation or drainage.
EPA has worked arm in arm with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to make sure we’re addressing farmers’ concerns up front. The rule keeps intact existing Clean Water Act exemptions for agricultural activities that farmers count on. But it doesn’t stop there – it does more for farmers by actually expanding those exemptions. We worked with USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service and Army Corps to exempt 56 additional conservation practices. After the rule – if producers choose to partake in any of the 56 conservation practices detailed in the proposal – they won’t need those permits or pre-approval.
Farmers and ranchers benefit when healthy wetlands and small streams are able to store floodwaters so that crops and pastures are not damaged or destroyed during floods. They also need reliable water sources and available irrigation water to grow the crops that feed our nation.
People depend on streams, lakes and rivers for swimming, boating, wildlife and drinking water. According to a 2011 survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 90.1 million Americans, or 38 percent of the U.S. population 16 years and older, fished, hunted, or enjoyed wildlife-associated recreation. Hunters, anglers and wildlife recreationists spent $145 billion. Fishing attracted 33 million individuals 16 years and older.
The proposed rule helps clear the way for the Clean Water Act to do its job and ensure clean, healthy waters. The proposed rule will be open for public comment for 90 days from publication in the Federal Register. Visit www.epa.gov/uswaters to learn more about our proposal.
We’re committed to continuing to listen to everyone who has a stake in this. So I urge you to voice your concerns and lend us your advice. That’s how we’ll get the final rule right.
Karl Brooks is administrator for U.S. EPA Region 7 that includes Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and nine tribal nations. He is a resident of Lawrence, Kan.