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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

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - 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 on just where the Clean Water Act applies, but a new revision has been proposed to clarify the issue.

According to Jan Goldman-Carter, senior manager for wetlands and water resources with the National Wildlife Federation, people who deal with the Clean Water Act are happy to have the issue resolved. She described the confusion as a complicated mess.

"So, it's been wasteful, it's been time-consuming, and it's been expensive on all sides," she declared.

The revision doesn't add any new regulations on farms, and outdoor groups said they're glad clean water rules would apply to many wetlands and headwater streams.

The agency says nearly half of Arkansas streams are small headwaters, where much of the state's drinking water originates. Outdoor organizations and rural residents say Arkansas' $1.8 billion recreation economy also depends on small waterways.

Ellen McNulty is a third-generation farmer near Stuttgart, which she calls the "rice and duck capital of the world." Without small wetlands in the northern midwest, she said, they might not get any duck hunters.

"If you have rice fields, you're going to have ducks, and so it's really important that the Prairie Pothole regions in the northern United States produce those ducks, so they do migrate to Arkansas. It's a big business," McNulty declared.

Many farmers had voiced concerns that, for them, Clean Water Act rules could grow to become burdensome. But Steph Larsen, a farmer who also works with the Center for Rural Affairs, said her sense is that farmers are relieved to learn that isn't the case with the new proposal.

"The exemptions related to agriculture are still the same exemptions," she pointed out. "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 proposal.

More information is at EPA.gov.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - AR