Watch out farmers, ranchers, developers and anyone else that might set foot in a “water of the United States,” the big, bad federal government is coming to take you away…hee, hee, ho, ho, they are coming to take you away!
At least that’s what some lawmakers would have us believe.
A recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) clarification of what rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, wetlands and other water bodies are protected by the 43-year-old Clean Water Act has sent some members of Georgia’s congressional delegation into a tizzy.
Said Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ranger): “The Obama Administration is reaching beyond its authority…EPA will have the ability to regulate small streams, farm ponds and irrigation ditches.”
Sen. Johnny Isakson went a step further: “This latest overreach by the executive branch will…delay and prevent development and land use activities…This rule harms not only landowners, but our entire agriculture industry in Georgia.”
Georgians would be wise to take this rhetoric with a grain of salt.
Across the nation, only 3 percent more water bodies will be protected as a result of this new rule. According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in Georgia no additional waters will be covered by the new rule.
In fact, currently, virtually all of the water flowing through our state is protected. If a developer wants to push dirt into even a tiny stream or wetland to build a shopping center, they must first win approval from state and federal regulators. This rule does not create any more hoops for developers to jump through.
And, those farmers that fear the new rule is going to put federal regulators in their corn fields, can rest easy. According to EPA, all agricultural exemptions remain in place.
It appears the rhetoric coming out of Washington is more about partisan politics than on-the-ground realities. This is most unfortunate.
The Clean Water Act is the reason that human feces and toilet paper does not still float down the Coosa. It’s the reason that the Oostanaula and Chattooga rivers don’t still flow blue and purple from the dyes of textile mills. And, in the future, if not dismantled by radical elements that would do away with all government regulation, it will be the reason why our streams, rivers and lakes remain places we want to visit.
When it was adopted by Congress in 1972, it did so with strong bi-partisan support via an override of President Nixon’s veto. Seventeen Senate Republicans voted for the override, and in the House, the override won by a 10-1 margin with 96 Republicans supporting the Act.
In Northwest Georgia, some one million people get their drinking water from rivers like the Conasauga, Oostanaula, Coosawattee and Etowah. We cannot assure the cleanliness of these sources without protecting the smallest wetlands, swamps, ponds and streams that feed these rivers. The Clean Water Act has always, and still does, do that.
Rather than infringing on the property rights of landowners, as some of our congressional leaders assert, the Clean Water Act actually protects downstream property owners (and all citizens) from acts by upstream neighbors that would harm our water and our use and enjoyment of it.
Every citizen deserves that kind of protection. Congressional leaders need to stop the “coming to take us away” rhetoric and support this latest clarification of the Clean Water Act, a federal law originally adopted with strong bi-partisan support.