EPA to expand Clean Water Act

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will move forward with its expansion of the Clean Water Act under a rule known as the Waters of the United States, or WOTUS, despite some public opposition.

The original proposal was first made public in March 2014, when the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers jointly announced their intent to clarify protection under the Clean Water Act for the streams and wetlands that form the foundation of the nation's water resources.

The announcement was a response to long time confusion over which bodies of water the Clean Water Act protected, caused by Supreme Court rulings regarding the act in 2001 and 2006. For nearly a decade, members of Congress, state and local officials, industry, agriculture, environmental groups and the public asked for a rulemaking to provide clarity.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy stated that the agency was providing clarification of protections for upstream waters that downstream communities depend on. "Clean water is essential to every single American," she added,  "from families who rely on safe places to swim and healthy fish to eat, to farmers who need abundant and reliable sources of water to grow their crops, to hunters and fishermen who depend on healthy waters for recreation and their work, and to businesses that need a steady supply of water for operations."

During the comment period following the proposal's release, farmers and agriculture leaders voiced concerns over the new rule, prompting the EPA to withdraw certain portions of the proposal, such as one which outlined which conservation activities would allow farmers an exemption from Clean Water Act permitting.

Still, critics of the rule believe that the EPA's extensions made things even more complicated and confusing for farmers. They state that the agricultural industry is committed to clean water and the environment, but that new rules should not hamper farm work.

Partnering with environmental consultants, farmers can ensure they are in compliance with all federal and state laws, without disrupting farm operations.