Front yard puddles – U.S. property?
On April 9 the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works heard testimony on proposed changes to the Clean Water Act, originally passed in 1977.
Senate Bill 1870 would strike the word “navigable” from the Clean Water Act’s definition of “waters of the United States” and expand the Clean Water Act to the smallest and most isolated bodies of water throughout the country by creating a new definition of “waters.”
“The new definition is to the point that the puddle in your front yard belongs to the U.S.,” says Wyoming Stock Growers Executive Vice President Jim Magagna. “It’s frightening to read the new wording and see the interpretations that could be given to it on private land.”
Magagna says he’s also concerned how the changes would impact federal lands. “When federal land agencies are faced with this language, I’m concerned as to what restrictions it might pose to us as users.”
Supporters of the bill – all the sponsors are Democrats, including Montana’s Senator Max Baucus – contend it only restores the original intent of Congress with regard to the Clean Water Act.
“Even under the original act there have been numerous court cases that defined ‘navigable’ broadly, but recent cases have narrowed down the federal authority under the Clean Water Act as it affects private property rights,” says Magagna.
“The Clean Water Act originally used ‘navigable waters’ to protect those large, flowing waters that often traverse from one state to another,” says Magagna. “The federal control comes under the commerce clause because those bodies have impacts on interstate commerce.”
According to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s Randy Smith of Montana, “Broad expansion of the Clean Water Act would impose a significant financial burden on the nation’s farmers and ranchers and harm their private property rights, while doing little to improve the environment.”
“It is one thing to regulate navigable waters and wetlands that have a ‘significant nexus’ to those waters, because they have true environmental value,” says Smith. “It is another thing to regulate every wet area, or potentially wet area, simply because it is wet, regardless of the fact that these areas provide very little, if any, environmental value. To think that a rancher would be forced to get a Section 404 permit whenever a cow stepped in a dry wash or a puddle is nothing less than shocking.”
“Without a doubt, this bill will harm Wyoming agriculture, commercial and residential real estate development and mining,” says U.S. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.). “It is a direct infringement on the rights of state and local authorities. I will not stand for it and neither will the people of Wyoming.”
“It is now springtime in the Rockies,” notes Barrasso. “As the snow melts, large, temporary water holes are formed on ranches and farms across the state. If this bill passes, any activity that touches these water holes would now require a federal permit.
“It will needlessly delay construction or repair of pipelines, ditches, canals and wells. Water is vital to the maintaining our Wyoming way of life. Any delay in providing our communities and economy with water would be disastrous.”
Along with the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, the Wyoming Association of Rural Water Systems has joined Barrasso in opposition to the legislation.
As this edition went to press, a vote had not yet been taken on S. 1870. Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.