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The Ag Agenda

July 2009

Next on the Government’s Agenda: Regulating Rainwater


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

Some folks laugh at the notion of Uncle Sam reaching his hand literally into our backyards and regulating almost every drop of water. But, a bill in Congress would do just that. And if it passes, not just farmers and ranchers would be affected, but all land owners.

The Clean Water Restoration Act, or S. 787, gives the government the right to extend its reach to any body of water from farm ponds, to storm water retention basins, to roadside ditches, to desert washes, even to streets and gutters. The legislation leaves no water unregulated and could even impact standing rainwater in a dry area.

Private property owners beware.

To Restore or Not to Restore

While it has “restoration” in its title, it does anything but. The Clean Water Restoration Act is not a restoration of the Clean Water Act at all. It is a means for activists to remove any bounds from the scope of Clean Water Act jurisdiction to extend the government’s regulatory reach. But, what the activists won’t tell you is that the Clean Water Act is working, and has been for the last 36 years.

Put simply, this legislation would replace the term “navigable waters” from the Clean Water Act with “all interstate and intrastate waters.” Farm Bureau supports the protection of U.S. navigable waters, as well as rivers and streams that flow to navigable waters – all of which are already protected under current law. But, if the Clean Water Act is applied to all waters, farmers and ranchers would be significantly impacted due the number of farming activities that would require permits.

Under this new law, areas that contain water only during a rain would be subject to full federal regulation. Further, not only would many areas not previously regulated require federal permits, those permits would be subject to challenge in federal court, delaying or halting these activities resulting in a huge impact on rural economies.

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Farmers and ranchers do a good job taking care of the land. As I often say, they are America’s first environmentalists. They use modern conservation practices to protect our nation’s water supplies. Many times these efforts are put in place voluntarily because farmers are driven by a strong stewardship ethic.

However, the restoration bill largely disregards the positive conservation role farmers and ranchers are playing. It replaces good works with strict rules. Rather than restore the Clean Water Act, it just brings a new truckload of restrictions for the people who do most to protect our water.

The Clean Water Restoration Act is regulatory overkill. It is written to give the federal government control of structures such as drainage ditches, which are only wet after rainfall. Taking these changes one step further, it would likely give federal regulators the ability to control everyday farming activities in adjacent fields.

Hard-working farm families can’t afford, nor do they deserve, Uncle Sam’s hand reaching into their backyards, their fields or even their puddles of rainwater.