Three years ago, when the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a flawed “waters of the U.S.” rule, I was wondering what this meant for our family ranch. Apparently, I had a lot of company. I don’t think there was a farmer or rancher in the West who could tell which ditches, gullies and low spots on our farms were suddenly regulated as “waters of the U.S.” We didn’t know if we would suddenly need permits and permission for the routine farming practices that we had been using for years on our land. Practices, including irrigating or pasture regeneration, that are beneficial to the ranch and the land.
As a Wyoming rancher, there are many things that I cannot control, like a late spring blizzard, drought or grasshopper plague. But we try to understand and plan ahead for government regulations. So, we started to look for answers on what the 2015 WOTUS rule really meant, and all we found was more confusion. Thankfully, the confusing 2015 rule was never fully implemented nationwide, as it was blocked by the courts within days of its effective date.
So I was excited when last week, the EPA proposed a new clean water rule to replace the flawed 2015 WOTUS rule. There are always details to sort out — and there may be room for improvement on the latest proposal, but at first look, there’s no question that this is good news for farmers and ranchers who have faced confusion and unclear rules like we have.
One of the best things that the new proposed Clean Water Rule provides is clarity. Clear rules will be more effective at protecting water and provide us with more honest, transparent government. This clarity helps ranchers know how “waters of the U.S.” are defined and protected. A rancher needs to be able to look across his or her ranch and be able to tell what is and isn’t a federally regulated waterbody. We shouldn’t have to hire a team of lawyers, environmental engineers and consultants to help us guess whether we can farm and ranch on our land.