Clearing the regulatory waters


After a decade of uncertainty over Clean Water Act jurisdiction following Supreme Court challenges in 2001 and 2006, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corps of Engineers announced a forthcoming administrative rule to close enforcement loopholes, restoring protections to 20 million acres of wetlands, more than half the nation’s streams, and drinking water for 117 million Americans.

Rural America— and the family farmers, ranchers and small towns therein— are the tip of the spear in protecting America’s water quality. The proposed rule is a commonsense effort to clear the regulatory waters, protect the nation’s surface waters, and provide an environment in which economically vital activities such as hunting, fishing and birding as well as farming and ranching can thrive.

The EPA has an opportunity to ensure that the rule will provide greater opportunities for farmers and ranchers to partner with USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service programs to enhance water quality through increased water retention and reduced runoff with buffer strips, cover crops and other sustainable farming practices. And the rule can help reduce some of the economic burden currently faced by many small towns in improving drinking water quality.

Once the rule is published in the Federal Register, individuals and organizations will have 90 days to offer comments on ways the rule can be improved. Although the new rule is an encouraging first step in providing clarity and a better regulatory framework for protecting surface water quality across the nation, no rule is perfect.

Established in 1973, the Center for Rural Affairs is a private, non-profit organization working to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches and rural communities. To contact John Crabtree, email: