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Water rule update: Agricultural organizations keep water regulation in scope

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Water rights have been a hot topic in legislation for many years. In 1986, the idea of a federal water rule first entered the Supreme Court, and eventually entered legislation. Nearly 35 years of debate has made for countless different regulations on every water feature. 

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) Chief Environmental Counsel Scott Yager joined the Beltway Beef podcast on July 29 to share how the rule has progressed and what the future of water rights looks like.  


Starting in 2008, the Obama administration bypassed the legal system to create the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule. By 2015, this rule effectively controlled all U.S. water systems. 

Under WOTUS, anyone has to get permission from the federal government to manage water.  

Giving insight into the extensive rule, Yager shares, “If someone is draining a stock pond, the stock pond is now a federal WOTUS and permission from the federal government is required.” 

With very in-depth regulations, the new rule at the time infringed on producers’ water rights. Throughout the years, U.S. cattle producers have been very opinionated on this rule.  

“The rule really gets at private property rights and a rancher’s ability to use their land in the way it is most economically beneficial,” says Yager.  

  NCBA and cattle producers joined Congress to fight the expansive new water rules.  

“A lot of features on cattle country were going to be federally regulated where they have never been before,” Yager explains. “So, we opposed the rule in Congress.” 

When the Trump administration took office, the 2015 WOTUS rule was repealed and replaced. A new water act, the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, was put into place.  

Eager for the new legislation, Yager explains, “This rule effectively pushed back some of the federal overreach and tried to provide clarity and exclusions for farmers and ranchers.” 

Water rule status 

The 2020 Navigable Waters Protection Rule is still in place today.  

“It is still an effective law, meaning right now this is the law we are living under as a landowner, land user or agricultural producer,” says Yager.  

While still fairly new, Trump’s water rule has made progress across the country. The rule has taken some of the federal government out of producers’ management. However, there has been some backlash.  

Yager, giving examples of some cases, shares, “There has been a number of decisions where cases had the opportunity to overturn the Trump Navigable Waters Protection Rule, but decided not to.” 

Environmentalists and law makers are continuing to fight over cattle producers’ use of water. Still, the recent wins in court mean change is not in the near future.  

“This effectively means the Trump administration’s rule stays in place for the foreseeable future, if and when the Biden administration finalizes a policy change,” says Yager. 

If the new administration decides to take action against the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, they will have to produce a final rule, and the process for this action takes notable time.  

Yager notes, “Producers can take a sigh of relief because nothing is changing right now – it is the status quo.” 

Moving forward 

While many believe the Trump administration made big progress with water rules, NCBA hopes to continue the effort. Between new litigation, defending the Navigable Waters Protection Rule and working with the Biden administration, the organization is continuing to fight for cattle producers’ rights.  

Focusing on their biggest task, Yager shares, “We will also be continuing to have conversations with the Biden administration.” 

Unfortunately, some of the conversations taking place in the Capital are not going towards progress for cattle producers. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) leadership is against the Navigable Waters Protection Rule. 

“The EPA is going down the path of potentially repealing and replacing the Trump administration’s rule and working with members of Congress,” says Yager. 

However, NCBA is still fighting back. They have taken action to continue the 2020 water regulations.  

Yager concludes by introducing NCBA’s new plan, saying, “There are a number of members in Congress mentioning the WOTUS rule who will be introducing new legislation. We are working with those members behind the scenes to move cattle production in all good directions.” 

Cattle producers are still fighting for rights to water management and keeping the government overreach to a minimum. Yager encourages water users to reach out to their Congressmen to continue efforts. 

Savannah Peterson is an intern for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to 

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