Local groups react to Clean Water rule

On Wednesday, the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the United States Army announced its final rule and clarification for the Clean Water Act or “waters of the United States.”

The ruling sought to clarify regulation of headwaters such as streams and wetlands. The EPA stated that tributaries must “show physical features if flowing water” in order to warrant regulation and protection and stressed a focus on “streams, not ditches.”

The EPA also stated Wednesday that this rule will apply to streams, wetlands and other tributaries that are more “seasonal and rain-dependent.”

Wednesday’s announcement caused a wide range of reactions from environmental groups to farming agencies and politicians.

Representatives from both the Friends of the North Fork and the Potomac Riverkeeper Network lauded the EPA’s announcement as an important measure for watershed conservation.

Friends Executive Director John Eckman said, “It helps protect 60 percent of the nation’s streams and 20 million acres of wetlands; that’s not a bad thing.”

“We expect it’s going to be good for Virginia’s brook trout and waterfowl,” Eckman added. “It actually restored EPA protection for millions of acres” of wetlands that “are crucial to that habitat of those species.”

Shenandoah Riverkeeper Mark Frondorf expressed a similar notion, stating, “It provides clarity to the regulations … as to what’s a stream and what’s a river.”

Frondorf, Eckman and many environmental groups nationwide have talked about the importance of protecting the smaller tributaries within watersheds.

According to the EPA’s website, 117 million Americans rely on streams and local tributaries for their drinking water.

A map on the agency’s website charting drinking water sources shows that 99 percent of residents in Shenandoah, Warren and Frederick counties receive “at least some” of their water from seasonal, rain-dependent headwaters (http://1.usa.gov/1SHpgGC).

“For the Shenandoah [River] and for Virginians … 25 percent of us get our clean water from small streams,” Frondorf said. “It’s vital that we protect those water sources.”

Mark Wastler, Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District education and information coordinator, noted via email a statement from the district’s board that it is “working with its state and national associations” to understand how the ruling might affect its conservation programs.

U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, of Virginia’s 6th district, stated via email that he is “carefully analyzing the EPA’s final ‘waters of the United States’ rule.”

He also stated that he is concerned that the rule is “just another federal power grab” and expressed that “the EPA is handing down its own rule.”

Eckman said, “There’s been a lot of fear mongering about this that is probably unjustified, and we hope that it works out as a positive … for all the land owners.”

Most of the negative feedback regarding the EPA’s ruling has stemmed from congressional leaders and agricultural landowners.

The Virginia Farm Bureau Federation stated Wednesday that it believes the EPA may have over-stepped its regulatory boundaries.

Federation VP of Communications Greg Hicks said, “It looks like the EPA is regulating land use rather than protecting the state’s of the nation’s water resources.”

Hicks added, “They’re talking about regulating water that doesn’t even exist but a few days a year. Based on their vague regulations … this is why we need to further study it.”

Virginia Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, also stated that he and his constituents are unhappy with the regulations.

Obenshain said that the rule “doesn’t take into account the practical realities of farming” and that “it’s making it even harder for an already challenging sector of our economy.”

Jeff Kelble, president of Potomac Riverkeeper Network, has been a strong proponent of the EPA’s clarification and said on Thursday that he believes there will be a “fair amount of legislative pushback” moving forward.

On May 12, Goodlatte voted for and co-sponsored a house bill called “Regulatory Protection Act” that passed the house on May 12 and is now up for debate in the senate.

Pending approval, the bill would require the EPA and Secretary of the United States Army to “withdraw” the Clean Water Act 30 days after it is enacted.

However, Obenshain expressed doubts over any legislative action due to President Barack Obama.

“Until there’s a change in the occupant of the White House, legislative efforts to undo this are going to be about as successful as legislative efforts to undo Obamacare,” Obenshain said.

Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kgreen@nvdaily.com