Tighter EPA clean water rules draw mixed Colorado reaction

Photo: Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy says new EPA clean water rules only affect waterways that have a "direct and significant" connection to larger bodies of water downstream that are already protected.

The rules extends Clean Water Act regulations to the smallest headwaters of the nation’s river systems. Two court rulings last decade threw EPA jurisdiction over those streams and ponds into doubt.

Colorado Farm Bureau President Don Shawcroft is concerned the new rule could make it a harder for farmers and ranchers to manage their lands.

"I think this is really an overreach of one branch of the government trying to tell people what can happen on their private land," he said.

But Pete Maysmith with the group Conservation Colorado hailed the new rule, saying these small waterways are critical to the state’s drinking water supply.

"If they’re unprotected at their source, then that means we’re all vulnerable to pollution," Maysmith said.

Two Supreme Court rulings had left the reach of the law uncertain. The rules issued Wednesday by the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are designed to clarify which smaller bodies of water are federally protected.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said the rule will only affect waters that have a "direct and significant" connection to larger bodies of water downstream that are already protected. On the EPA website, she wrote:

Farms across America depend on clean and reliable water for livestock, crops, and irrigation. Activities like planting, harvesting, and moving livestock across streams have long been exempt from Clean Water Act regulation; the Clean Water Rule doesn’t change that. The final rule doesn’t create any new permitting requirements for agriculture, maintains all previous exemptions and exclusions, and even adds exclusions for features like artificial lakes and ponds, water-filled depressions from construction, and grass swales—all to make clear our goal is to stay out of agriculture’s way. Just like before, a Clean Water Act permit is only needed if a water is going to be polluted or destroyed—and all exemptions for agriculture stay in place.

Still, the U.S. House has already voted to block the new rule, the Senate may do the same.

Members of Colorado's congressional delegation were quick to give their views.

"There's no doubt that clarity was needed," Gardner said. "However, the EPA's approach has not provided that clarity. In fact, it's provided the opposite of that. And it's inserted itself into waterways and streams that I don't believe ... the EPA was ever supposed to be in."

NPR reports Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Inhofe, the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, telling the AP that his panel will consider a measure this summer and "continue our work to halt EPA's unprecedented land grab."


The Associated Press contributed to this report.