The Obama administration has proposed a new rule that would give the federal government regulatory authority over millions of acres of wetlands and about 2 million miles of streams.
The regulation would clarify that the EPA has jurisdiction over waterways intermittent streams — the kind that only flow seasonally, or after heavy rains — and riparian wetlands. That will mean stricter pollution controls in those places. And that means safer water in a complex system that was previously underprotected.
"The health of our rivers, lakes, bays and coastal waters depends on the smaller interconnected streams and wetlands that feed them," EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said. "These places are where we get our drinking water. Our farmers rely on these vital waters to grow the fuel, food and fiber that feed our nation. Our businesses rely on abundant, usable water to manufacture."
The proposal, which is being characterized as a "land grab" by conservative politicians and pundits, does not in fact expand the Clean Water Act, but is simply a matter of the EPA asserting its authority over types of waters that historically have been protected. Farmers and ranchers have been assured that tile drainage systems would not be regulated and there would be no new requirements for irrigation and drainage ditches.
The proposed rule will be open for public comment for 60 days.
Photo: Wetlands erosion on the North Carolina coast. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)