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Colorado Farmers Break Ranks with Big Ag Lobby

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014   

DENVER - Groups like the American Farm Bureau Federation and other "big ag" organizations are protesting proposed federal rules that would redefine which bodies of water are regulated under the Clean Water Act.

Among the exceptions to that protest are farmers represented by the Denver-based Rocky Mountain Farmers Union. Bill Midcap, director of external affairs with the union, says he and his peers recognize the importance of maintaining the state's limited water supply.

"We've broken ranks, but we think that education and clarity of these rules is something ag's going to need," says Midcap.

While opponents of the proposed regulations say they place a burden on the farm community, the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union launched a campaign this month called "They Don't Speak for Me," intended to underline the fact not all farmers agree with the "big ag" lobby's opposition to the water rules.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says the proposed rule clarifications are needed to close loopholes in the Clean Water Act, and to ensure the ability of a new rule which would still offer exemptions for everyday agricultural activities. EPA representatives have been traveling around Colorado to help farmers understand the proposed regulations, and to demonstrate how the clarifications will enable farmers to continue irrigation of crops.

Julia McCarthy, environmental life scientist with the EPA, also notes the proposed regulations simply reinstate rules initially put into place in the 1970s.

"We want to make sure these headwater areas are providing a clean source of water for downstream communities and downstream irrigators so we don't have issues with high pollution levels in the water that we're using to water our crops," says McCarthy.

The Clean Water Act was passed in 1972 to address water pollution, but Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 limited the Clean Water Act to waters deemed "navigable." The EPA says this has created confusion when it comes to enforcement of water regulations.

Bill Midcap says he just wants to make sure farmers have a voice as the rules develop.

"Despite the opposition, these rules are going to move forward," he says. "So, why not try to get real clarification of how the rules are being written, before they are written?"

The EPA has extended their public comment period to Oct. 20.


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