The Slippery Slope That Has Been WOTUS

Jun 15, 2021

Water debates in agriculture have been on a wild ride. And a new memo just out of the EPA is signaling more of the same.

During the Trump administration, the Navigable Waters Protection Rule removed federal oversight from several tributaries and waterways. Now, Biden’s team is suggesting a new flow – one that will repeal the rule.

First, a bit of a history lesson:

1972: The Clean Water Act was established to regulate discharges of pollutants in U.S. waterways.

2015: President Obama created the Clean Water Rule, or as many in agriculture know it, Waters of the United States (WOTUS), under the Clean Water Act. The rule included oversight by the federal government of minor streams and wetlands, which caused agricultural groups to question its clarity and how it would affect farmers and ranchers.

2019: The Trump administration formally repealed WOTUS, citing a major power grab by the federal government.

2020: The EPA and Army Corps of Engineers published the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, which helped define “waters of the U.S.” and provided a sigh of relief to farmers and ranchers.

Now that we’re caught up: Biden’s EPA said the changes by Trump caused “significant environmental degradation” – saying dry places like New Mexico and Arizona were especially under water with problems. One of the EPA’s concerns is the more than 300 development projects that may be polluting waterways in those states.

Tributary? More like Tribu-hairy: Now Biden wants to reverse the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, and farmers and ranchers are not here for it. The administrator of the EPA says they’re “committed to establishing a durable definition of ‘waters of the United States.’” A proposed new EPA rule could take effect later this year.