By Helen Moore,
Water for Life,
Irrigated agriculture could become even more challenging if the Congressional majority is able to pass the Clean Water Restoration Act (CWRA). Representative James Oberstar (D-MN) has introduced legislation that replaces the phrase “navigable waters” with “water of the United States”. The central provision which defines “waters of the United States” as “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, wetlands, sloughs, prairie potholes, wet meadows, playa lakes, natural ponds, and all impoundments of the foregoing, to the fullest extent that these waters, or activities affecting these waters, are subject to the legislative power of Congress under the Constitution.”
The CWRA is an effort by environmental extremist to override rulings by U.S. Supreme Court in Rapanos and SWANCC that limit the reach of the Clean Water Act (CWA). Altering the CWA’s definitional structure could result in unintended consequences by imposing regulatory burdens on states and local communities, usurping state authorities to manage vital water resources, including groundwater, and imposing substantial costs and delays in the replacement of aging water infrastructure. Federal regulation of virtually every wet area of the United States is not necessary and there is no evidence to support the argument that the Court decisions have hurt wetlands or water quality. The use of the term “activities” rather than “discharge” should be construed to expand the scope of the CWA authorities and will lead to additional litigation. The bill fails to include the long-standing regulatory exemptions for “prior converted cropland”,
The CWRA does not define the boundary between state and federal water, leading to concern about preemption of state law. The Oregon Water Resources Department would be burdened by implementing new federal requirements, and cause additional backlogs and delays for water users in Oregon.
This legislation will not benefit Oregon agriculture, however, Governor Kulongoski is endorsing the bill. In his letter of support the Governor states “By replacing ‘navigable waters of the United States’ with ‘waters of the United States’ the CWRA will lead to improved protection for Oregon’s wetlands, streams, and other bodies of water. Waters not considered navigable, such as small streams and isolated wetlands, need protections under the Clean Water Act because of the important roles they plan in providing ecological services.” Passage of the CWRA will create another layer of bureaucracy with additional delays and fees.
Now is the time to tell our elect officials; local, state and federal, how this will adversely affect agriculture. It is very important that our voices are united and we are heard. This is just another example of political double speak, rural Oregon is very important as they pass more rules to impede our ability to produce food to feed the world.
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