Wayne F. Pryor column: Farmers want clean water and clear rules

This OpEd appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on Dec. 21, 2018.

pryor_edited-2016In June 2017, the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began a two-step process to review and revise the definition of “waters of the U.S.” under the Clean Water Act, proposing to first rescind the 2015 WOTUS rule while they worked to develop a new lawful and rational definition.

This was in the wake of several court rulings blocking the 2015 rule, which never went into effect nationwide.

On Dec. 11, I joined the presidents of all 50 state Farm Bureaus at the EPA headquarters in Washington to announce a new proposed clean water rule to replace the flawed 2015 WOTUS rule.

As the rule is published in the Federal Register, the details will take some time to sort out, and there may be room for improvement on the latest proposal.

But there’s no question that this is good news for farmers who have faced a tangled web of confusing and unclear rules that left us uncertain of whether we can even farm our own land.

The 2015 WOTUS rule was so broad and vague that a farmer would have no idea whether any ditch, depression, or pond on his farm was subject to federal regulation.

But the uncertainty in the rule goes back decades. For too long, the only way to really know what features were protected has been to go to the U.S. Supreme Court — and few had the resources for that.

Meanwhile, farmers have been cited and fined for doing things as commonplace as plowing a field or switching crops, just because rainwater drains across the field.

Federal regulations shouldn’t be a game of gotcha. Landowners should have fair warning of what activities are regulated and what landscape features are protected as “waters of the U.S.”

A farmer should be able to look across her farm and tell what is and what is not a federally regulated body of water.

We shouldn’t have to hire a team of lawyers, environmental engineers, and consultants to help us guess whether we can farm our own land.

Farmers care about clean water. It makes our crops grow, sustains our livestock, and fills the wells from which our families drink.

We want to preserve and protect the natural resources on our farms for our children, so they can pass those farms on to their children.

Many farms in Virginia have been operated by the same families for three, four, five, or six generations — or longer.

The Virginia Century Farms program recognizes farms that have been in the same family for more than 100 years.

There are nearly 1,500 registered Century Farms statewide. This says a lot about farmers’ incentives to protect the natural resources on their land. We want to leave something of inherent and lasting value for generations to come.

Moreover, we want to leave behind more than a business; we want to leave a legacy.

Farmers support clear rules that will protect water quality in our nation’s waterways.

We are encouraged that the EPA has proposed a new water rule aimed at providing a clear and reasonable definition of “waters of the U.S.” and protecting our nation’s water resources for future generations.

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