EPA Clean Water Act ruling works for agriculture and for the nation

As I am a fifth-generation rancher and farmer, you could say water is in my blood.

My family moved west in the 1800s, homesteaders scratching out a living off the land while enduring the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and epic droughts and floods. I believe that small American farmers and ranchers are a critical part of, not only feeding our nation, but also sustaining our natural resources.

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Yet we can’t do it alone. That’s why I was glad to see the Environmental Protection Agency finally issue a proposed rule clarifying which American water resources deserve and need Clean Water Act protections. The common-sense ruling by the EPA ended years of confusion and uncertainty about what actions need permitting and what don’t. It also ensures protections for the streams, tributaries and wetlands that feed our nation, support its wildlife and sustain countless local economies.

The move by the EPA will not only begin cleaning up American waterways, a full third of which are currently too toxic for swimming or fishing, but also better serve the long-term interests of agriculture.

The common-sense part of the EPA’s proposal involves taking into account the most basic principle of hydrology, something any rancher or farmer inherently knows. That is, what happens upstream and in our nation’s seasonal, rain-dependent streams, rivers and wetlands, directly affects the larger bodies they’re connected to.

My family’s ranch is near the headwaters of just such a tributary creek. From here, one can easily see how what happens upstream affects my neighbors downstream. Because the EPA’s new ruling accounts for this reality while providing necessary exemptions for day-to-day agricultural needs, such as crop irrigation and livestock watering, I believe this is good policy.

As for the Clean Water Act, most people know the basics of its storied history, created in 1972 when most American bodies of water were too toxic for swimming, fishing or drinking, and were even spontaneously catching on fire. Since that time, half of the nation’s polluted bodies of water have been cleaned up and made safe again.

Less known is that in 2001 and 2006, the Supreme Court saw fit to muddy the waters again, issuing a fairly confusing, unenforceable and greatly limited interpretation of the law, with only “navigable” bodies of water qualifying for protection. This term is as vague and unenforceable as it is arbitrary.

Now we finally have some clarity. And it means cleaner, safer water and healthier food for all of us.

I recently signed a letter to the EPA and Department of Agriculture with a handful of other Western ranchers and farmers in support of the proposed rule. We invited policymakers in Washington to a working farm to see firsthand the importance of balanced water policy to the health and well-being of farm, family and community.

We hope they can take us up on our invitation.
 
Kaup, a rancher and farmer, owns Troublesome Creek Farm in Golden, Colo.