Today, the Environmental Protection Agency announced long-awaited plans to repeal the Obama-era Waters of the United States rule that extended federal authority and protections to streams and wetlands through the Clean Water Act.
This rollback is the first in a two-step process to contain the reach of the Clean Water Act. The second of these steps is a replacement rule expected by the end of the year that would restrict the number of waterways that would be included in the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act.
This proposed replacement would divide US waters into six categories: traditional navigable waters, tributaries to navigable waters, ditches – those used for navigation or affected by the tide, certain lakes and ponds, impoundments, and wetlands that are adjacent to water covered by the rule. It would exclude groundwater; ditches, including roadside and farm ditches; prior converted cropland; stormwater control features, and wastewater and waste treatment systems.
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said this change in the rule “will result in significant cost savings” while protecting the nation’s waterways and reducing “barriers to important economic and environmental projects.”
The WOTUS rule has been of the utmost interest to rice producers recently, especially with policies in regards to Prior Converted Cropland (PCC) and the treatment of ditches. USA Rice submitted comments on the proposed revision of the Waters of the United States rule under the Clean Water Act earlier this year.
“Today’s announcement from EPA signals a commitment towards providing certainty in uncertain times for rice producers,” said David Petter, Arkansas rice farmer and Chairman of USA Rice Regulatory Affairs and Food Safety Committee. “America’s rice farmers have continually proven themselves as the gold standard in stewardship of both water quality and quantity. In order for rice farmers to continue to invest in these practices that maximize environmental stewardship and improve our production capacity, we need clarity in order to plan and execute on strategy that makes best use of our water resources for our on-farm needs and those downstream.”