Skip to content

Weekly Column: The Water Quality Protection Act

In 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed a rule to expand the definition of ‘waters of the U.S.’ This power grab would dramatically expand the federal government’s jurisdiction under the Clean Air Act, beyond what the Act intended. The proposed rule, commonly known as WOTUS, has the potential to be one of the most burdensome and overreaching regulations in history for South Dakota’s farmers and ranchers by requiring onerous and unnecessary new permits.

I’ve heard from a number of South Dakota farmers and ranchers, who continue to tell me the WOTUS rule would bog down productivity. Our Ag producers should be focused on growing crops and caring for their herds, not wasting time filling out paperwork or waiting around to get a permit to spray weeds in their ditches.  In the Senate, I recently joined my colleagues in a bipartisan effort to prevent WOTUS from taking effect.

Our bill, the Federal Water Quality Protection Act, would protect traditional, navigable waters as well as the livelihood of farmers and ranchers by requiring EPA and the Army Corps to completely abandon their current WOTUS rule. Instead, it directs the administration to go back to the drawing board, following principles and procedures we set forth in our bill.

We clarify that the definition of ‘waters of the U.S.’ does not include things such as groundwater, sheet flow, agricultural water and temporary ponds formed from rainwater, floodwater and wastewater because they do not have a connection to navigable waters. We also recommend grandfathering systems that may have been created by converting a stream into a water management system before the Clean Water Act was enacted. These commonsense ideas help set clear limits on the federal regulation of water.

Farmers and ranchers know their land better than anyone. Often times, it is handed down for generations. They make their living from the land, and have a vested interest in preserving and protecting it for their children and grandchildren. As such, they are inherently good stewards of the land. They deserve a voice in any rule that would dramatically affect the way their property is regulated and managed by the federal government. Our bill would also require EPA and the Army Corps to work with the Ag community and state and local governments when determining which water features should be under federal jurisdiction and which should be left to local governments. 

Freeing Americans from burdensome regulations such as WOTUS has been a priority of mine since taking office. Our Federal Water Quality Protection Act would stop this unnecessary, burdensome and intrusive rule from getting in the way of our farmers and ranchers. It is another step toward reducing regulatory burden being handed down by unelected bureaucrats in Washington. I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues in the Senate to get this bill to the President’s desk before a final rule is published.