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August 2000

Federal Water Rules Should Yield to Local Action

Bob Stallman
American Farm Bureau
By Bob Stallman
President, American Farm Bureau

The Environmental Protection Agency showed arrogant disdain for Congress last month by issuing rules and regulations to thwart legislative direction for dealing with municipal, industrial and agricultural runoff. Agency officials unveiled their plan to establish maximum impairment levels for all bodies of water that it will then regulate. The agency's action fails to recognize regional differences in climate and terrain, factors noted by Congress when it originally wrote clean water legislation a quarter of a century ago. Back then, Congress kept the control of runoff with state and local governments. Unlike today's administration, they recognized that "one size fits all" regulations would not adequately address the different micro-environments that compose this country.

Under the banner of stopping pollution, EPA is foisting arbitrary standards on states. The agency continually points at farmers and ranchers as the main polluters of the nation's rivers and lakes. EPA based its charge on its own National Water Quality Inventory, a review that is so seriously flawed and scientifically lacking that other government agencies openly dismiss the fragmentary data and biased conclusions.

Representatives from Farm Bureau, state natural resource departments, and numerous other water quality specialists have tried to work with EPA officials to create a cooperative atmosphere that will result in landowners voluntarily striving for improved water quality, rather than subjecting citizens to yet another federal licensing scheme. Independent of EPA help and assistance, we have developed "Proud Water Partners," a voluntary, locally managed, incentive-based, positive, informative program for rural citizens and landowners that will improve the quality of local water resources.

Voluntary Participation is Key to Success

The program is designed to allow neighbors to develop a plan that will meet or exceed federal water quality standards established by the EPA. But, since there is no place for federal regulators to regulate in our plan, EPA bureaucrats don't like it and want to mandate new rules that they would police.

Our "Proud Water Partners" program will assist farmers' efforts to improve the quality of their watersheds. AFBF is distributing "How To" manuals to state Farm Bureau offices as we gear up this project. By following steps in this handbook, interested individuals can accurately assess the quality of their own watershed. They can work with government authorities to determine agriculture's real impact on water quality and correct inaccuracies and misinterpretations. More important, they can address solutions to pollution from agricultural sources. Following the guidelines, we can become even better stewards of our water resources.

I am excited about the potential success this effort offers. The manual lays out how to form a "Proud Water Partners" team, how and where to gather resources, how to collect and analyze the data, how to develop solutions and long-range objectives, how to develop and implement a water quality improvement plan and, most important, how to evaluate results. The goal, of course, is to correct and protect our nation's water. Farm Bureau's program aims to help farmers identify and pursue management practices that protect human health and the environment while remaining economical and technically practical.

Help Improve Your Water's Quality

There is no doubt in my mind that working together locally, we can accomplish much. Our record of 81 years of accomplishments shows that the Farm Bureau way succeeds. This program works. At watersheds where we have local involvement, water quality is improving. Pollution is identified and reduced. Rural citizen and landowner awareness is heightened. Cooperation is increased. Credible information on the watershed is built. And appropriate management practices are implemented.

This truly is a positive, proactive program that benefits the environment while respecting individual freedoms. Take a look though the handbook. And look around your township to see what you can do to protect the integrity of our resources.