WINNSBORO, La. – Farmers are worried their operations may come under increased federal scrutiny as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers seek to clarify which waters are subject to Clean Water Act regulations.
More than 100 people attended a listening session on July 30 to express concerns to EPA officials and ask questions about how the new rules may impact them. The event, organized by the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, was held at the LSU AgCenter Tom H. Scott Extension and
At issue is the proposed redefinition of “waters of the U.S.,” a term used in the Clean Water Act that dictates which bodies of water must comply with regulations set in the act. Currently,
There are gray areas, however, when it comes to seasonally flowing streams and non-jurisdictional waters that are adjacent to
“This is one of the most critical issues facing
Bill Honker, EPA regional director of water quality, said inconsistent applications of the current rule cost businesses time and money. Different EPA regions, Corps districts and state governments have been making different determinations of which waters they should regulate.
In short, Honker said, it needs to be clear exactly which waters are subject to Clean Water Act regulations because they all “affect what goes on downstream.” Honker assured attendees that waters used in farming activities are exempt because agriculture does not impact water quality on the same scale as industrial waste, for example.
EPA officials insist the redefinition will not include any new types of water and that exemptions for agricultural practices will remain in place. Typical uses of water on farms, such as ponds, irrigation and ditches, will not require a permit under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.
“If you didn’t have to get a permit for it yesterday, you won’t have to get a permit tomorrow,” said Eugene Thilstead, EPA agriculture adviser.
Nevertheless, some people are worried the clarified definition will increase the EPA’s regulatory authority. Meeting participants raised concerns about agricultural ditches that are not jurisdictional but eventually drain into
Thilstead pointed out that even if jurisdictional waters are running through a farm, they remain exempt because they are used for agriculture. Further, the rule does not give the EPA power to regulate activities on land, he said.
Louisiana Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry Mike Strain told the gathering that his main concern, and one of many farmers, is that the EPA has set aside 56 specific conservation practices that are exempt from permitting requirements.
Strain said such practices are being developed constantly and conservation must be progressive. There needs to be a mechanism to get new practices exempted quickly, he said, and it should be done at the state level because of unique agricultural and water conditions.
Officials acknowledged that such practices help farmers be good stewards of the environment. Curry said the EPA realizes the significance of what farmers do.
“The clarification is important to agricultural work, and our cooperation with the ag community is important,” he said. “We want to see how farmers benefit waters of the
It is crucial to include farmers in this discussion, Curry said, because “we want to get this rule exactly right.” Comments on the rule can be submitted until Oct. 20 at http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/guidance/wetlands/CWAwaters.cfm#comment.