The EPA on Wednesday released its final version of its “Waters of the U.S.” rule, likely causing another wave of controversy in the agricultural community.
In a morning call, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army for civil works, outlined what has changed--and what has stayed the same--in the rule.
“Agriculture activities like plowing, harvesting, and moving livestock across a stream have long been exempt from federal clean water regulations," McCarthy said. "This rule will not change that.”
(Click here for the EPA's industry-specific fact sheets on the revised rule. The second sheet listed focuses on agriculture.)
The two officials said they hoped the new version would provide more clarity. “Our rule will make it clear which waters are covered and which ones are not,” said Darcy.
Here are some of the changes:
- New protections for specific water features such as prairie potholes, Texas coastal prairie wetlands, and western vernal pools in California.
- A more specific definition of tributaries, which are protected waters under the rule due to their relationship with downstream waters. Under the new rule, “a tributary must show physical features of flowing water—a bed, bank, and ordinary high water mark—to warrant protection.”
- New and defined protections for waters located near rivers, lakes, and tributaries.
- New exemptions for artificial lakes and ponds, grass swales, and “water-filled depressions from construction.”
Significantly, the new rule also specifically addressed ditches, which were called out in the American Farm Bureau Federation’s “Ditch the Rule” campaign as an example of the EPA’s regulatory overreach.
But the updated version may not please farmers and ranchers either, as they realize some of ditches on their land may qualify as protected waters. “Only ditches that look, act, and function like a tributary are covered because they carry pollution downstream,” said Darcy.
Click here to listen to the full press conference via My Farm Radio.
What do you think about the latest version of this rule? Let us know on the AgWeb discussion boards.