Water Act's mission may expand
back bill to remove ‘navigable’ from federal water law
water someday be controlled by the federal government?
It would under a bill introduced in the U.S. Senate that aims to
apply Clean Water Act regulations to bodies of water whether or
not they're considered navigable.
So says Don Parrish, senior director of regulatory relations for
the American Farm Bureau Federation, which has concerns about the
"We believe that legislation is very much fatally flawed," said
Parrish, who is based in Washington, D.C. "It's a rehash of bills
that have been introduced in previous congresses. What it does is
delete the term 'navigable,' which appears in the Clean Water Act
The Farm Bureau is one of several ag-related organizations raising
red flags over the so-called Clean Water Restoration Act, which
was introduced April 2 by Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis.
The California Cattleman's Association opposes it on the grounds
that changing the definition of applicable waters could lead to
new restrictions on uses of groundwater, manmade ponds, wet
farmland, treatment ponds and other wet areas, according to the
organization's latest legislative bulletin.
Feingold introduced the legislation in response to two recent U.S.
Supreme Court cases - Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County
v. Army Corps of Engineers in 2001 and Rapanos vs. United States
in 2006 - that reduced the scope of the Clean Water Act.
"Every day Congress fails to reaffirm Clean Water Act protections,
more and more waters are stripped of their protections,
jeo-pardizing the drinking water of millions of Americans as well
as our nation's wildlife habitats, recreational pursuits,
agricultural and industrial uses, and public health," Feingold
said when he announced the bill's introduction.
The senator asserts the legislation fulfills President Barack
Obama's campaign pledge to "restore" the Clean Water Act, which
was enacted in 1972 to clean up and protect the nation's waters.
Environmental groups estimate that at least 20 million acres of
wetlands and up to 60 percent of the nation's small streams are
not currently covered under the Clean Water Act, according to a
published report. The groups contend the loss of wetlands leads to
increased flooding and other problems.
Feingold's bill is backed mainly by environmental and sportsmen's
groups. But among the bill's supporters is the Wisconsin Farmers
Union, whose president argues that it would protect farmers'
livelihoods by protecting the water supply.
"This legislation is a prime example of economically sustainable
environmental policy," Sue Beitlich, the organization's president,
said in a statement.
"It will not force farmers to stop farming on wetlands that have
been utilized for years nor alter the regulation of agricultural
"WFU believes that wetlands that have not been farmed should not
be used for any agricultural activities," she said. "And harming
sensitive, ecologically important waterways ... is and never
should be a viable option in agriculture. It's best to take a
common-sense approach. Farm on what's been used as needed, and
leave the rest alone."
The bill has 23 co-sponsors, including Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.,
Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Ron Wyden,
Gary Walker, a National Cattlemen's Beef Association member who
runs cattle on about 65,000 acres in Pueblo, Colo., said decisions
about what types of water should fall under government protection
should remain with the states.
"I'm always for keeping government as close to you as you can,"
Walker said. "Once it becomes federal, you'll never get anything
done again because somebody always has a self-centered reason to
block whatever you do."
States define their waters differently, said the Farm Bureau's
For instance, Maine includes all waters in its definition except
for those retained completely on the property of one person, while
Minnesota's state waters include all surface and subsurface water
except for that which is "not confined but spread out and diffuse
over the land," Parrish said.
Feingold's bill would add another layer of bureaucracy that would
oversee water use, and its jurisdiction could conceivably include
ditches and erosion features, which farmers deal with regularly,
"If you're going to regulate an activity that affects water ...
you tell me, is there any limit to what activity that we do as a
human race that wouldn't affect waters, and is the federal
government going to regulate all of it?" he said.
Parrish said he fears that farmers and ranchers could be hauled
into court over their water use, and the legislation could affect
decisions over how they use their land or where they build their
homes, he said.
"This bill would get the federal government right in the middle of
all of that with no limit," he said.
Staff writer Tim Hearden is based in Shasta Lake. E-mail: