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'Navigable' maybe deleted from Clean Water Act

WASHINGTON, D.C.--Legislation that would remove the word "navigable" from the Clean Water Act and allow the Corps of Engineers and Environmental Protection Agency to regulate all interstate and intrastate waters could put farmers in "regulatory quicksand," according to Missouri Farm Bureau President Charlie Kruse.

Testifying today on behalf of the American Farm Bureau Federation before the House Small Business Committee, Kruse, a Dexter, Mo. corn producer, said the bill leads to increased compliance costs, burdensome permit processes and extends the reach of the Clean Water Act to any body of water in the United States.

Kruse cited a number of cases that point out the hurdles farmers across the country will face if the Clean Water Restoration Act, S. 787, is approved. In one example, Kruse told the account of a small farmer in Minnesota who wanted to improve existing drainage on 11 acres of his land.

"USDA and the state did not consider his land a wetland, but the Corps did," Kruse testified. "They told him he needed both a permit and 17.7 acres of mitigation. The cost of compliance--$77,000 was more than the property was worth, and the farmer could not afford to comply."

Kruse noted that expanding the scope of the Clean Water Act would sweep many agricultural and forestry activities under Clean Water Act regulation simply because such activities are conducted near some isolated ditch, swale, wash, erosion feature or ephemeral stream that would newly be deemed a "water of the United States."

"This would represent the most sweeping change to the law since its enactment in 1972," Kruse testified.

"Farmers and ranchers are practical small business owners," Kruse said. "We recognize and understand that words matter. It is clear to us that Congress intended to use the term 'navigable waters' when it passed the CWA in 1972--or it would not be there. It is our view, and that of many legal experts, that deleting this form the 1972 act would fundamentally expand, not simply restore, the scope of areas that would be subject to federal regulation."

According to AFBF, the Clean Water Restoration Act would give the federal government the right to regulate any body of water, from farm ponds to storm water retention basins to roadside ditches to desert washes.

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