Federal officials say the finalized Clean Water Rule unveiled May 27 won’t place new burdens on farmers, whom the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s chief referred to as “America’s original conservationists.”

The rule will only protect waters that have historically been covered under the 1972 Clean Water Act and doesn’t interfere with private property rights or address land use, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said. It also doesn’t apply to any ditches that don’t “act as tributaries,” she said.

“This rule will not get in the way of agriculture,” McCarthy said during a news conference on the banks of the Anacostia River in Washington, D.C. “It specifically recognizes the crucial role that farmers play.”

McCarthy and Assistant Army Secretary Jo-Ellen Darcy told reporters the EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers received more than 1 million comments on the rule, which builds on the 1986 federal definition of “waters of the United States.” The agencies sought to redefine waters administratively after a proposal in 2009 to change the definition of “navigable” waters in the Clean Water Act languished in Congress.

Asked to respond to farm groups’ criticism the agencies have mounted more of a public relations campaign than an honest outreach effort, McCarthy said the government simply used social media to disseminate information as other entities would.

“We did not cross any legal lines,” she said, adding that regulators made “substantial changes” to the rule after hearing feedback in more than 400 meetings with individuals and organizations.

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