Waters of the U.S. Fixes Welcomed by Cattle Producers and Lawmakers

Changes to the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rules could help ease tension in agriculture about the regulation originally enacted by the Obama Administration. ( Wyatt Bechtel )

A resolution to the much maligned Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule may have been reached by regulators which is well received news by cattlemen’s groups and lawmakers.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plans to update definitions for WOTUS regulations through the Clean Water Act. The proposed regulation change would exclude waters not in a six category definition.

“A fresh start” for WOTUS is being hailed by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) as a benefit for cattle producers.

“NCBA advocated for a new water rule that is easy to understand and implement. The Administration listened. The proposed water rule provides safeguards to keep our waters clean and clear rules for landowners to follow. We look forward to engaging with the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers to finalize the rule,” says NCBA President Kevin Kester, a fifth-generation California rancher.

The Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA) also applauded the update to the WOTUS rule.

“We thank the EPA and Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler for fulfilling the administration’s pledge to rewrite the onerous Obama-era WOTUS law. Their commitment to creating a new rule that is easily interpreted by property owners and that limits federal intrusion on private property rights signals that the new proposal is moving in the right direction,” says Robert McKnight, Jr., president of TSCRA.

McKnight, a Texas rancher raising commercial and registered Hereford cattle, cautions that the WOTUS changes will still take time to review and implement.

“As with any rule of this scope and magnitude, it will take some time to thoroughly review the plan and ensure cattle producers are not needlessly burdened as they would have been under the previous version,” McKnight adds.

The regulation change has support of politicians and other regulatory agencies, including USDA.

“When I meet with the men and women of American agriculture, one of their chief concerns is always the overreach of federal regulations.  The WOTUS rule is regularly singled out as particularly egregious, as it impedes the use of their own land and stifles productivity.  Farmers and ranchers are exceptional stewards of the environment, and states have their own standards as well.  This welcome action from the EPA and Army Corps will help bring clarity to Clean Water Act regulations and help farmers know where federal jurisdiction begins and ends,” says Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue.

“Iowa’s farmers, ranchers, manufacturers and small businesses can breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that, going forward, a tire track that collects rain water won’t be regulated by the federal government.  I want to thank the EPA, under Acting Administrator Wheeler’s leadership, for ensuring this WOTUS replacement rule was released quickly, and properly, to provide much-needed regulatory certainty to the people of Iowa,” says Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA).

“Clear rules and clean water – that’s what the EPA should stand for, and today’s announcement marks a hopeful new chapter for farm country. The Trump administration’s proposed definition of ‘waters of the U.S.’ is the next step to replacing the burdensome 2015 WOTUS rule and to creating streamlined and simplified rules for all landowners,” says House Agriculture Committee Chairman K. Michael Conaway (R-TX).

The new WOTUS definition separates regulated waters into six categories:

  1. Traditional navigable waterways: Will remain federally regulated as they have since the original 1980 regulation.
  2. Tributaries to traditional navigable waterways: Only federally regulated if they contribute flow to a traditional navigable waterway in a typical year (on a 30-year basis). Ephemeral features are excluded.
  3. Ditches:
    1. Ditches that function like a traditional navigable waterway, such as the Erie Canal, will be federally regulated.
    2. Only ditches that contribute flow to a traditional navigable waterway in a typical year are regulated.
  4. Lakes and ponds: Like tributaries, they would be regulated if they contribute flow to a traditional navigable waterway in a typical year.
  5. Impoundments: Impoundments such as check dams and perennial rivers that form lakes and ponds behind them have been regulated since the 1986 regulation and will continue to be federally regulated.
  6. Adjacent wetlands: Wetlands that have a direct hydrological surface connection to another water of the U.S. in a typical year are federally regulated.

There is a still a 60-day public comment period before the proposed rule can be published by EPA.