I am concerned about how far the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is taking its new proposed “Waters of the U.S.” rule. The agency wants to regulate nearly every drop of water in this country, even “waters” that are dry most of the year. Ranchers and other property owners need to pay attention or we’ll find ourselves flooded with new regulations never intended by Congress.
When Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972, it specifically stated that only navigable waters are under federal jurisdiction. Two Supreme Court decisions have verified this limit. But now the EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have taken it upon themselves to expand the Clean Water Act to cover every stream, creek, draw, gully, puddle or ditch. The water doesn’t even have to be permanent to qualify. If there’s water in an area for a week, a day, or an hour, it’s likely to be under EPA control.
You might not think we have enough water in this part of the state to worry about this. To the contrary, the way these 600-plus pages are worded we probably all have spots on our property that will be considered “waters.” Think about stock dams, creeks, low areas where water sits in the spring when the snow melts. Even in a dry year, if a heavy rain comes fast and washes away soil along a dry bank, then this is “Waters of the U.S.” I saw a map showing which areas of South Dakota are expected to be regulated, and almost the entire western half of the state was shaded.
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If this proposed rule goes through, my family’s ranch by Vale and every other farm and ranch across this state will face unprecedented federal control over our land. The EPA is telling us not to worry because agriculture is exempt, but the devil is in the details. The exemptions do not apply unless you’ve been farming or ranching continuously since 1977. The exemptions also do not cover any of the routine activities we need to do: mowing hay, building fence, constructing cattle-crossings, spraying pastures for weeds or bugs, and so on.
If the EPA can find cause to call any spots “Waters of the U.S.,” then they can require a permit to work in these areas. Can you imagine going through a federal permitting process before you can do some fencing, or cut silage, or spray for weeds? There is nothing in the rule that outlines where to apply for permits, the cost, or whether the EPA will even grant them.
My opposition to this rule is not because I don’t care about clean water. People in agriculture take it as a God-given responsibility to take care of the land and water. This is about government overreach and regulatory agencies that are out of control. Please join me in submitting comments to the EPA by the Nov. 14 deadline. See the map I referenced and find an online comment form at South Dakota Farm Bureau’s website, sdfbf.org.