Guest Opinion: Clean Water proposal aims to help farmers


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When Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972, it didn’t just defend the mighty Mississippi or the Great Lakes, it also protected smaller streams and wetlands from pollution. The law recognized that to have healthy communities downstream, we need healthy headwaters upstream.

EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers took targeted action in March to protect the clean water vital to our health and our economy. Science clearly shows us what kinds of streams and wetlands affect water downstream — so our proposal protects those waters.

There’s been some confusion about EPA and the Army Corps’ proposal, especially in the agriculture community. We want to make sure you know the facts.

The agencies’ intent is to protect clean water without getting in the way of farming and ranching. Normal farming and ranching — including planting, harvesting, and moving livestock—have always been exempt from Clean Water Act regulation, and our proposal doesn’t change that. We worked with USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service and the Army Corps of Engineers to exempt 56 conservation practices familiar to many farmers, such as range planting and wetland restoration, who know their benefits to business, the land, and water resources.

Despite the myths we’re hearing from some critics, the Clean Water Act only deals with the pollution and destruction of waterways — not land use. Nor does this proposal affect private-property rights. Also, the proposal does not regulate new types of ditches, does not apply to groundwater, and does not change the exemption for stock ponds.

With the Western U.S. in historic drought and after seeing how water pollution can threaten communities such as Toledo, Ohio, and Charleston, West Virginia, the proposal is more important than ever. Paul Schwartz, a farmer from Hotchkiss, Colorado, agrees. “[EPA’s proposal] will provide needed clarity and help address very real water challenges,” he said.

EPA is not interested in a final rule that will make farming more difficult. The agency’s job is to protect our natural resources so farmers can keep doing what they do best — farming.

We understand that people have legitimate questions and concerns about the proposal, and we are committed to listening to America’s farmers and ranchers. But we can all agree that protecting the long-term health of our nation’s waters is essential. The public comment period for the proposal is open until October 20, and your input will make sure we get to a strong, achievable final rule.

More information is at: http://www2.epa.gov/uswaters

Ken Kopocis is the deputy assistant administrator for water at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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