EPA Proposes Major Upgrade for Clean Water Rules

On March 25, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers proposed an administrative rule to close loopholes in the Clean Water Act. The loopholes left more than half of America’s streams and millions of wetland acres unprotected from pollution.

The new rules will provide much needed clarity in Clean Water Act enforcement; clarity that will be advantageous across rural and small town America.

Rural America is the tip of the spear protecting the quality of the water of the United States. The proposed rule is a common-sense effort to clear the regulatory waters; protect the quality of the nation’s surface waters; and provide an environment where vital economic activities like hunting, fishing, and birding can thrive alongside farming and ranching. Activities like these contribute to a better quality of life and safer drinking water for us and for our neighbors downstream.

The rule-making comes after a decade of uncertainty over jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act, following Supreme Court challenges in 2001 and 2006. The new rule will be published in the Federal Register and will be available for public comment as soon as this week. It will restore Clean Water Act protections to 20 million acres of wetlands and more than half the nation’s streams, restoring protections to drinking water for 117 million Americans.

By providing clarity on what constitutes protected waters of the United States, the EPA has an opportunity to provide greater opportunities for farmers and ranchers to partner with USDA’s conservation programs to use sustainable agriculture practices to enhance water quality. The rule can also help reduce some of the economic burden currently faced by many small towns in improving drinking water quality.

“Water is the basis of life, and it is at the heart of everything we do here on our farm,” said Charlie Johnson, who owns and operates a 2,000 acre organic farm near Madison, South Dakota. “The clarity this rule will provide will be important as we work to improve soil health; increase water retention; and reduce runoff through buffer strips, cover crops, and other sustainable farming practices.”

After the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register, a 90 day public comment period will follow. That gives individuals and organizations a chance to provide input to EPA on ways the rule can be improved. Even though we are encouraged by this first step, we know no rule is perfect.

We're analyzing the full text of the rule now, all 370 pages. We'll share our analysis with the administration and with the public. And we will work to encourage you - our supporters, friends, and allies from across the U.S. - to offer your insights as well.