By Bill Graves
In my youth, I spent many summer days swimming in the Smoky Hill River.
Like all kids, my friends and I got a big kick out of running to the river's edge and jumping in. But what if there was no water in the river? Would we still have jumped? Trust me, even as a kid, I was cautious.
Fast forward to the present. As strange as it may sound, the Environmental Protection Agency wants to protect the people of Kansas from doing just that. The EPA has come up with some new rules and regulations they say will clean up portions of 1,400 Kansas streams, so they meet federal standards for swimming. The fact that there is little or no water flowing in most of those streams or creeks seems to have escaped the EPA.
No one in Kansas disagrees with the worthwhile goal of cleaning up impaired waterways. Let's just apply a little logic and common sense along the way.
In the last five years, we had made substantial progress toward improving water quality in Kansas. More and more agriculture producers are turning to innovative land management practices (designed by Kansas State University scientists) to reduce runoff. State government is monitoring more, providing more resources to communities to enhance their water systems and engaging in creative new techniques, such as providing incentives to landowners to plant trees and other permanent vegetation to serve as natural filters adjacent to waterways.
EPA's actions create more questions than answers: Why divert precious resources and attention from state-level efforts that are cleaning up the environment? Why is the EPA singling out just Kansas? They are not moving to enforce the same standards on other states--even those with bigger water quality challenges.
I worry further that these burdensome rules will have a more subtle and longer-term impact on Kansas farmers, ranchers and communities. The EPA is proposing these new water quality regulations with a heavy hand. Federal regulators want to have one quick public hearing, in Topeka, and then proceed. That is not acceptable to us here in Kansas, and my administration has asked for more public hearings statewide.
I don't question the EPA's motives, but I do take issue with their methods. They will get no argument from anyone in Kansas on the need to improve water quality. But to go about it in this fashion makes about as much sense as swimming in a dry creek bed.