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Fed not regulating common farm water practices -- EPA chief

DANIEL LOOKER 04/07/2014 @ 4:57pm Business Editor

The EPA's new proposed rule for defining "waters of the U.S." does not mean the agency is regulating common farm practices, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said at the annual meeting of North American Agricultural Journalists in Washington, DC, Monday.

McCarthy insisted that for most farming practices, the rule doesn't change what farmers are already doing that is exempt from regulation under the Clean Water Act.

"It in no way means we're taking away or minimizing the exceptions for farming practices that exist," McCarthy said.

The new rule lists 56 common conservation practices that are exempt, but that does not mean other practices not listed would fall under the proposed rule, she said.

Among the farming practices that will remain exempt, she said, are "plowing, seeding cultivating, minor drainage and harvesting," she said.

McCarthy said that the rule isn't going to expand EPA regulation over ditches.

“It will not add to or expand the scope of waters historically protected under the Clean [Water] Act," she said. "It will not regulate groundwater or tile drainage systems. It will not increase regulation of ditches, whether irrigation or drainage. EPA is not taking over additional lands or we’re not taking authority over all ditches. The proposed rule does not expand jurisdiction over ditches. It actually proposes to exclude some ephemeral and intermittent ditches. The proposal excludes ditches that are never jurisdictional. It identifies those, including ditches with dry land, with less than perennial flow, and it excludes any ditch not connected to the tributary system."

McCarthy added that the rule isn't a land grab, that it doesn't regulate land use.

"If a farmer was not legally required to have a permit before, the rule does not change that permit status," she said.

McCarthy reminded NAAJ members that the rule is a proposal, that it's not final.

“It is the start of another level of dialogue with the agricultural community and other stakeholders," she said.

At the beginning of her talk to the group, McCarthy called the ag sector "incredibly important" and that the EPA needs to do a better job of communicating with farmers and ranchers.

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