Idaho lawmakers target ‘Waters of U.S.’ rule

Water fills the Aberdeen-Springfield Canal in southeast Idaho at the beginning of the 2015 irrigation season. Members of Idaho's Congressional delegation and some Idaho farm organization leaders believe a proposed rule change to the Clean Water Act could result in more federal control over canals and other farm waters.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. House of Representatives passed an appropriations bill May 1 containing Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson’s language blocking implementation of a proposed rule he fears would expand the federal government’s Clean Water Act authority.

The rule would change the law’s jurisdiction from “navigable waters” to “waters of the United States.” Simpson’s spokeswoman, Nikki Wallace, explained states currently have authority over waters that aren’t navigable, and many in agriculture fear the change could subject canals, seasonal ponds and even groundwater to greater federal scrutiny.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the rule is needed to clarify the law in the wake of U.S. Supreme Court rulings and doesn’t seek to expand the influence of EPA or the Army Corps of Engineers. EPA insists the language retains, and even expands, specific exemptions for agriculture from regulation.

Opponents note that the rule seems to broaden regulations to seasonal streams, and exemptions provide inadequate certainty.

“We’re not buying that,” said Lindsay Nothern, a spokesman for Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, who worries the change could potentially block irrigators from even altering back country canals. “It’s still up to a bureaucrat to determine, ‘We’ll grant you an exemption, or maybe we won’t.’”

Simpson chairs the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee and added the language to block funding for implementing the proposed rule when he drafted the energy and water appropriations bill.

When the House debated the appropriations bill, members defeated an amendment offered by Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., to strip out Simpson’s Clean Water Act language. Beyer’s spokesman said the rule provides needed clarity regarding EPA’s jurisdiction and the amendment’s defeat is a blow to clean water.

Simpson said on the House floor, “Clarity does not trump the need to stay within the limits of the law. The proposed rule would expand federal jurisdiction far beyond what was ever intended by the Clean Water Act.”

Crapo has co-sponsored a standalone bill to block the proposed rule, S 1140. Nothern said the bill has strong bipartisan support, potentially enough to override a presidential veto.

“This legislation protects property owners and puts the government back in its place when it comes to water law,” Crapo said in a press release.

In the House, Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., has introduced HR 594 as a standalone bill, requiring the federal agencies to withdraw the interpretive rule and work with state and local officials on a new proposal.

Idaho Dairymen’s Association Executive Director Bob Naerebout believes both the Senate bill and Simpson’s appropriations bill language have a good chance of success. His organization has submitted public comments against the proposed rule and assigned its lobbyist to focus on the topic in Washington, D.C.

“This is a far overreach by EPA that has huge potential impacts on agriculture, businesses and rural communities,” Naerebout said.

National Potato Council Executive Vice President and CEO John Keeling also fears the proposed rule would “expand EPA jurisdiction to include the farming and conservation practices utilized by farmers.”

Recommended for you