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

PHOTO: A new rule clarifying where the Clean Water Act applies seems to be drawing a lot of support from farmers such as Steph Larsen, seen here watering her sheep. Photo courtesy of Larsen.
PHOTO: A new rule clarifying where the Clean Water Act applies seems to be drawing a lot of support from farmers such as Steph Larsen, seen here watering her sheep. Photo courtesy of Larsen.
April 9, 2014

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

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

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

The revision adds no new regulations on farms, and outdoor groups say they're glad clean-water rules would apply to many wetlands and headwater streams. The Environmental Protection Agency is taking comments on the proposed rule now.

According to the EPA, nearly two-thirds of Missouri streams are small headwaters, and the source of drinking water for an estimated 3 million Missourians.

Scott Manley, director of conservation for Ducks Unlimited, said people aren't the only ones who would benefit from cleaner small waterways.

"Clarity on protecting what we call 'isolated wetlands,' the prairie potholes that are up in the northern part of the country that are not navigable waterways but isolated small, little ponds here and there that produce all the waterfowl in North America," he said.

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 as a senior policy organizer for 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 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."

More information is online at epa.gov/uswaters.

Mona Shand, Public News Service - MO