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December 6, 2013

Proposed EPA Water Rule Could Expand Regulatory Authority Over Streams and Wetlands

A new EPA rule could drastically expand the agency's regulatory authority over streams and wetlands under the Clean Water Act. The agency released a draft report in September titled "Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters," that would be used to provide the scientific basis for analyzing the relationships between small bodies of water and larger ones. According to the report, streams, regardless of their size or how frequently they flow, are connected to and exert an influence on downstream waters.

According to Don Parrish, water quality specialist with the American Farm Bureau Federation, the issue will be how the agency defines "stream." It could be a visible channel that can carry a small volume of water, or it could be a feature that flows briefly in direct response to precipitation. "Let me translate: It could be any spot on the landscape where water may puddle or run when it rains," said Parrish. "What EPA's report is saying is that there is a possibility that a drop of rain could ultimately reach a river miles away. In establishing connectivity this way, EPA is giving itself the broadest authority possible to regulate activity on the land and in channels that bear no resemblance to streams in any normal way of thinking."  If EPA succeeds in gaining authority over every drop of water and the land it settles on, environmental activists will no doubt seize the opportunity to target litigation at farmers and ranchers or the agency to force the regulation of farmland and ranchland, Parrish warned.

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