Not merely water under the bridge
Protecting Midwestern streams and wetlands under the Clean Water Act helps our communities and is vital to our health, safety and quality of life. Local rivers in Kansas -- such as the Kaw, Arkansas, Smoky Hill, Solomon, Neosho and Ninnescah -- along with their network of tributaries and wetlands, are important to Kansas water quality, recreation, wildlife habitat and flood abatement.
For the past 15 years, two complex court decisions muddled the law, and we lost a clear understanding of which waters are protected. Working jointly with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, we're releasing a proposed rule that clarifies which waters are protected by the law. Our proposal will smooth wrinkles in the existing law; it does not add to or expand the scope of waters historically protected under the CWA.
The proposed rule does not change exemptions and exclusions for agriculture. We've worked closely with the agricultural community to avoid any surprises. The rule will not protect any new types of waters that haven't historically been covered, and it will not regulate groundwater or tile drainage systems or increase regulation of ditches, whether they are irrigation or drainage.
EPA has worked arm in arm with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to make sure we're addressing farmers' concerns. Farmers and ranchers benefit when healthy wetlands and small streams are able to store floodwaters so crops and pastures are not damaged or destroyed during floods. They also need reliable water sources and available irrigation water to grow the crops that feed our nation.
From the Missouri River to the Ninnescah, the American waterscape is a defining part of our national identity. In the Midwest, we are blessed with a vast network of wetlands and streams that support our rivers: from small seasonal streams in Kansas to the Missouri River; from rare inland marsh habitats in the Cheyenne Bottoms to the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. Refuges provide vital habitat for migratory birds in the Central Flyway of the U.S. and many species of aquatic invertebrates, mammals and reptiles. Because of the diversity of water resources, previous interpretations of waters of the U.S. resulted in uncertainty. Clarifying CWA protections will add certainty and clarity to farmers, developers and others.
People depend on streams, lakes and rivers for swimming, boating, wildlife and drinking water. According to a 2011 survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 90.1 million Americans, or 38 percent of the U.S. population 16 and older, fished, hunted or enjoyed wildlife-associated recreation. Hunters, anglers and wildlife recreationists spent $145 billion. Fishing attracted 33 million individuals 16 and older.
The proposed rule helps clear the way for the CWA to do its job and ensure clean, healthy waters. The proposed rule will be open for public comment for 90 days from publication in the federal register. Visit www.epa.gov/uswaters to learn more about our proposal and the CWA.
We're committed to continuing to listen to everyone who has a stake in this. So I urge you to voice your concerns and lend us your advice. That's how we'll get the final rule right.
Karl Brooks is administrator for U.S. EPA Region 7 that includes Iowa, Kansas,
Missouri, Nebraska and nine tribal nations. He is a resident of Lawrence.