Water law proposal alarms
Organization opposes bill that would redefine waters addressed
November 30, 2007
Like other members of American-Agri Women,
Arlene Kovash, who raises hay and cattle near Monmouth, Ore.,
with her husband, Paul, is opposed to proposed federal
legislation that would extend the reach of the Clean Water
The Clean Water Restoration Act of 2007, HR2421 and SB1870,
would amend the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to clarify
the federal government's reach in dealing with water
Of utmost concern to the ag women's organization is a change
in definition within the legislation.
The term "navigable waters" would be replaced with "waters of
the United States."
According to the legislation, this would cover "all waters
subject to the ebb and flow of the tide, the territorial seas,
and all interstate and intrastate waters and their
tributaries, including lakes, rivers, streams (including
intermittent streams), mudflats, sandflats, wetlands, sloughs,
prairie potholes, wet meadows, playa lakes, natural ponds, and
all impoundments of the foregoing, to the fullest extent of
these waters, or activities affecting these waters...."
In a resolution crafted by American-Agri Women during the
organization's recent annual meeting in St. Paul, Minn.,
members warn that replacing the word "navigable" with "waters
of the United States" is a "massive red flag to all property
owners and resource providers.
"If this passes, the federal government will have the
authority to control all our water and activities affecting
our water, thus pre-empting state and local government
authority over land- and water-use decisions," according to a
press release from the organization.
The organization claims the legislation would mean that
"farmers would need permits for anything they do, including
pesticide applications or even plowing."
Kovash fears the act would add layers of regulations on farm-
"A farmer could do something in the course of normal
agricultural practices and then suddenly discover that he or
she has violated a law or regulation," she said. "I don't want
to sound like an alarmist, but who knows what the
pseudo-environmentalists would do if they had a federal law
like this at their disposal," she said.
First introduced in 2003, the legislation is a response to
U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have eroded the jurisdiction
of the Clean Water Act over isolated waters used by migratory
birds and wetlands.
However, both bills specifically say they are not intended to
affect the authority of the Army Corps of Engineers or the
Environmental Protection Agency - in cases such as this:
n Discharges made up entirely of agricultural return flows.
n Discharges of dredged or fill materials resulting from
normal farming, silviculture and ranching activities.
n Discharges of dredged or fill materials for the purpose of
construction or maintenance of farm or stock ponds or
irrigation ditches and maintenance of drainage ditches.
But in a commentary on the issue, Scott Campbell, chairman of
the National Water Resources Associations Water Quality Task
Force, warns that the legislation would unleash a torrent of
litigation and conflicts because of the "expansive overreach"
of the measure's language.
Both the House and Senate versions of the bills have been
heard and were referred to committees more than four months
ago, where they have languished.
Efforts to pass similar legislation during the past three
congressional sessions failed after the bill never came up for
floor debate after being referred to subcommittees.
Proponents of the bill - among them the Sierra Club, National
Wildlife Federation and U.S. PIRG - believe the legislation is
needed to restore the Clean Water Act's authority to what
existed prior to the Supreme Court decisions and that it does
not expand federal authority.
Dolly Lillis of Idaho, also a member of American-Agri Women,
said the act opens the potential for "good ol' government boys
to come onto your land."
Lillis is quick to say that the people who crafted the
legislation probably had good intentions, she also believes
"they just don't realize what it does to people who are making
a living off the land."
"It sounds like it couldn't happen," she said, referring to
fears of being put out of business because of overly stringent
environmental regulations. "But we've seen things like this
happen to landowners who rely on natural resources."
She pointed to the farming area in the Klamath watershed that
felt the blow of restrictive environmental regulations.
"Whoever thought they'd shut farming down in that area?" she
said. "The farmers had been there for generations."
Kovash, meanwhile, warns that this kind of legislation could
spill over to non-agricultural lands - suburban lawns, for
"It could affect a lot of people," she said. "No one's
thinking about what it could really mean.... Is there anything
that doesn't affect water?"