Expect more water in the news in coming days – and not from the drought in California or the flooding in Texas.
The Obama administration is expected to release a final version of its controversial “Waters of the U.S.” rule. The move will likely set up a showdown between the Obama administration, which says it is seeking to protect the nation’s water supply, and the agriculture industry and its allies in Congress, who say the rule is a vast overreach.
Advocates on both sides of the issue expect the rule to be finalized very soon. Pushing for the rule are environmentalists, such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, which calls the rule “a significant fix” for tens of millions of acres of wetlands and thousands of streams that contribute to the drinking water for 117 million Americans. Pushing against is the American Farm Bureau Federation, which says the rule will give the federal government more power over land-use decisions – and will “make it more difficult to farm or change a farming operation to remain competitive and profitable.”
Caught in the middle: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which proposed the rule last year.
The rule was proposed by the agencies to simplify and clarify the meaning of the 1972 Clean Water Act. That law covers rivers, lakes and year-round wetlands. But what about certain streams that dry up part of the year? Or wetlands that are only wet during springtime months?
The proposed rule is intended to take into consideration two U.S. Supreme Court cases from the 2000s and to lay out standards for which waters should be covered.
The Clean Water Act requires permits for developing or discharging into covered waters, making the rule of vital importance to farmers, and to landowners in general.
But since the proposal was announced, farm interests have strongly lined up against it, and some state-level officials have pushed back as well. Republicans in Congress have sought to kill it.
And members of public looking for answers might find it all clear as mud. You can go to the Farm Bureau’s page “Ditch the Rule,” so-named because of fears the EPA would now be in the business of regulating roadside ditches. And then head over to the EPA’s “Ditch the Myth” page, which seeks to respond to farmers’ and others’ concerns.