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Support Grows for “Clearing the Waters” of the Clean Water Act

PHOTO: A new rule clarifying where the Clean Water Act applies seems to be drawing a lot of support from farmers like Steph Larsen, seen here watering her sheep. Photo courtesy of Steph Larsen.
PHOTO: A new rule clarifying where the Clean Water Act applies seems to be drawing a lot of support from farmers like Steph Larsen, seen here watering her sheep. Photo courtesy of Steph Larsen.
April 7, 2014

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A change in federal clean water rules appears to be popular with some major stakeholders, especially farmers, hunters and anglers. Two federal court decisions had "muddied" the rules about where the Clean Water Act applies, but a new revision has been proposed to clarify the issue.

Jan Goldman-Carter, senior manager, wetlands and water resources, National Wildlife Federation, said folks who deal with the Clean Water Act are happy to have the issue on the way to resolution. She described the confusion as a complicated mess.

"It has been wasteful, it has been time-consuming, and it has been expensive on all sides," she said.

The revision does not add any new regulations on farms, and outdoor groups have voiced appreciation that clean water rules would apply to many wetlands and headwater streams.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), nearly two-thirds of West Virginia streams are small headwaters. The mining industry has resisted including them in Clean Water Act protections, but the federal agency said they should be regulated - in part because much of the state's drinking water originates in them.

Larry Harris is a long-time West Virginia fly fisherman and chairs the National Leadership Council of Trout Unlimited. He said trout also need clean headwaters to spawn, so the fish are the "canaries in the coal mine" for people.

"When that water gets downstream to where people are, sometimes that's used for drinking water," Harris said. "So, clean streams are good for trout, but they're also good for people."

Many farmers had voiced concerns that Clean Water Act rules could become burdensome for them. But farmer Steph Larsen, senior policy organizer, Center for Rural Affairs, said her sense is that farmers are relieved to learn that is not the case with the new proposal.

"The exemptions related to agriculture are still the same exemptions," Larsen said. "When I talk to farmers about the rule, they really talk about how important water is to their farm, and how glad they are that there's some clarity to what these rules mean."

The EPA is taking comments on the proposed rule now.

More information is available and comments may be recorded at www2.epa.gov.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV