Written by The Herald-News
A draft report the Environmental Protection Agency has released that erases the word “navigable” from the Clean Water Act should be of grave concern to farmers and ranchers, according to the Montana Farm Bureau Federation. The draft report provides no scientific support to make distinctions between significant and insignificant connections of streams and wetlands to downstream water.
The American Farm Bureau Federation and 35 other organizations recently submitted comments to the agency expressing their concern.
“Merely because a connection can be identified does not mean it is significant to downstream water quality or ecosystem health,” wrote the groups, which identified themselves as the Waters Advocacy Coalition.
The report, Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters: A Review and Synthesis of the Scientific Evidence, also lacks the identification of any method, formula or standard for determining if a connection significantly influences the integrity of downstream waters.
“It’s a serious concern that the EPA is claiming all waters are connected and therefore, they need to have the ability to regulate them all,” says John Youngberg, vice president of governmental relations, MFBF. “They are claiming that just because a bird waters in your farm pond, stops to get a worm out of someone’s driveway puddle, then hangs out at a lake that flows to the Missouri River, they should have a say so in regulating the water in your pond. That’s preposterous.”
The report makes sweeping assertions that all connections are equal, regardless of the kind, size, or frequency. It does not “account for site specificity, regional variability or temporal variability” or address whether these factors of variability have any relevance on the effect of the connection on the integrity of downstream waters.
“Perhaps most importantly, the synthesis report totally fails to explain which types of connections or how many connections of what frequency, magnitude, and duration are needed to significantly affect the flow, ecology and water quality of downstream waters,” the groups said.
The groups noted that previous Supreme Court rulings have clarified that to regulate additional water bodies, EPA must show a significant hydrologic connection to navigable waters.
“The U.S. Supreme Court has examined the meaning of the scope of ‘navigable waters’ under the CWA three times,” the groups said.
The coalition also took issue with EPA’s approach to the rulemaking, saying that the agency should have held off on sending its proposed rule to the Office of Management and Budget until after the agency’s Scientific Advisory Board had reviewed the report on which the rule relies.
Youngberg expressed concern that if the EPA succeeds in getting authority over all water, it could lead to lawsuits from environmental and citizen groups for even simple activities used in growing crops, such as spreading manure on the land or applying crop protectants even when the activities have no affect on waterways.
“Once again, the EPA is determined to overstep its boundaries and work hard to regulate our country’s farmers and ranchers out of business,” Youngberg concluded.