Beginning in 1972, all waters with a significant nexus to navigable waters were covered by the Clean Water Act (CWA). While navigable waters has been an oft used phrase the EPA has also defined covered waters as Waters of the Unites States (WOTUS) that include territorial seas. This spring and summer the EPA has been working on a rewrite of definitions in answer to the suggestions by the Court. Those efforts have caused a flurry of activity by many affected interest groups. Some environmental groups are fully in support of anything the EPA can put in place to further define, protect or expand WOTUS. Some Industry and Agriculture folk are vigorously opposed to a rewrite of regulations that in any way increases the reach of the federal government. Some Municipalities are concerned that without well thought out language, new regulations could have a major and costly impact as they have to deal with both ends of the pipe – providing potable water and treating wastewater. Finally, there is the pure politics of the issue. There are those that want nothing more than to see the EPA’s rewrite efforts stopped for no other reason than to showcase it as a failure of the current administration.
On July 15th and 16th Dick Jefferies, President of the Rocky Mountain Flycasters Trout Unlimited chapter, joined13 other Sportsman representatives to discuss with elected officials the importance of not allowing politics to win out over sound and accepted procedure and policy. Currently, any policy can be changed if consequences or outcomes realized from policy implementation cause harm. There are many documented cases where provisions within the CWA have been successfully challenged. There are also many cases whereby regulatory provision was upheld. The simple fact of the matter is the process of challenging provisions that you disagree with cannot be considered if the definitions are not allowed to be created. Thus we end up where we are at today. Extremely muddled and ambiguous guidelines that are difficult and expensive to navigate through or use efficiently in project planning.
On March 25th of this year the EPA and the Army Corp proposed a rule for public comment. That proposal makes a strong effort to more clearly define what waters are covered and equally, if not more important, what waters are not covered. However, the EPA needs to do an even better job of providing clarity in all of the descriptions, classifications and definitions. Furthermore it is vital that flexibility be incorporated that allows for regional considerations. Water issues and water law in the Western United States force us to address issues in ways that can be entirely different than those found in States that have an abundance of water and do not manage water through a prior appropriation system.
Allowing politics to win out by gutting the efforts to rewrite these definitions is the wrong approach and the worst outcome possible. Let’s hope that common sense can overcome politics. After all, it’s true that some things don’t change. Take care of the water and it will take care of you!
The EPA needs to hear from you!! To comment on the proposed rule click here to tell the EPA to protect our streams and rivers!!