09 August 2015 - What is WOTUS?

What is WOTUS? That was the opening question in a recent e-mail I received from a non-farm reader of this column. Then, this question in an another e-mail . . . “Mr. Samuelson, tell me why farmers and ranchers don’t like clean water. You say they are against the Clean Water Act”. Let me offer my answers to those two questions.

First of all, WOTUS. . . WOTUS is the acronym for Waters of the U.S., previously known as the Clean Water Act in legislation passed by Congress in the mid-1980's. It has been in the news this summer because the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finally issued the rules governing WOTUS, and they defined “navigable waters” which would be regulated by EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers. Farmers and ranchers said the definition made no sense and was simply an extension of more federal control over farms and ranches. But it goes beyond agriculture, it would impact golf courses, parks, municipalities, school districts and all land owners.

Bob Stahlman, President of the American Farm Bureau Federation talked to me in Minnesota this week and told me why his members are upset. . . “Waters of the U.S. - I think it’s critical, I view that as the most extreme threat, regulatory threat to American agriculture and frankly, our future ability to operate, that I have seen in my lifetime as a farmer and rancher. We are going to have to continue to fight, hopefully get the Senate to pass a bill to either de-fund it or tell the EPA to go back to square one, start over. Otherwise we are going into litigation in court because we believe that once we get to clearly show that they exceeded their authority, we can win this fight. Those memos that have come out of the Corps of Engineers recently, clearly corroborate everything we have been saying about how flawed the process was and how they misapplied science and analysis. It was a purely political process and that is going to prove it up in court, if nothing else.”

Let’s look at the definition of “navigable waters” through the eyes of a rancher friend of mine in Arizona. He has a small ditch on his ranch that for about 6 weeks of the year, carries some of the snow melt from the mountains on his ranch. Two months at the most, there is water in that ditch; yet under the definition, that would be navigable water and if he wanted to make any change anywhere around that ditch, he would have to get permits from the Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA. That just doesn’t make any sense. I hope that whether it takes legislation or the courts, the definition is changed in a way that is sensible, workable and agreeable for all.

The answer to question #2 - Of course farmers and ranchers want clean water. They drink the water, they use it for their livestock, they use it to produce crops. They want clean water.

But they, and I, see “navigable water” as a body of water where you can enjoy a boat ride or go water skiing, not a ditch that is totally dry 11 months of the year. It’s time for the EPA to make rules based on reality, something we seldom find in Washington, D.C. these days.

My thoughts on Samuelson Sez.