In early December 2018, the Environmental Protection Agency published for comment a new proposed clean water rule to replace the flawed 2015 “Waters of the U.S.” rule. The details will take some time to sort out — and there may be room for improvement on the latest proposal. But there’s no question that this is good news for farmers and ranchers who have faced a tangled web of confusing and unclear rules that have left us uncertain of whether we can even farm our own land.
The 2015 WOTUS rule was so broad and vague that a farmer or rancher would have no idea whether any ditch or pond on his or her farm was subject to federal regulation. Farmers in the West have been cited and fined for doing things as commonplace as plowing a field or switching crops, just because rainwater drains across the field. Farmers and ranchers aren’t the only ones who’ve struggled with this rule — homebuilders, small-business owners, towns, cities, counties and states have all waded through the mire to figure out which activities could open us to fines of more than $50,000 per day.
Federal regulations shouldn’t be a game of “gotcha.” Landowners should have fair warning of what activities are regulated and what landscape features are protected as “waters of the U.S.” A farmer should be able to look across his or her farm 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 our land.