IFB provides input on WOTUS rule

Farmers stress the need to fix rule the right way. Otherwise, 'it will only get worse.'

From left, Stefan Maupin, Tennessee Farm Bureau; Luke Diehl, Ogle County; Lauren Lurkins, Illinois Farm Bureau; Don Parrish, American Farm Bureau Federation; and Richard Young, a consultant from Tennessee; provided input on the “waters of the U.S.” rule during a meeting with the Office of Management and Budget. Iowa Farm Bureau representatives participated by phone. (Photo courtesy of AFBF)

By Deana Stroisch

Illinois Farm Bureau met with White House staff in Washington, D.C., this week to provide input on the “waters of the U.S.” rule.

Luke Diehl, a corn and soybean farmer from Ogle County, and IFB’s Lauren Lurkins joined representatives from Iowa and Tennessee Farm Bureaus and the American Farm Bureau Federation during the meeting with staff of the Office of Management and Budget.

“This was an opportunity to provide real-world examples of what’s happening on the ground today and explain that if it’s not fixed the right way when rewriting the WOTUS rule, it will only get worse for farmers and other sectors,” said Lurkins, IFB’s director of natural and environmental resources.

Diehl received nonwetland/prior converted cropland designations on two of his farms from Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Believing he received the necessary approvals, he installed grassed waterways on both of his farms. After they were finished in March 2017, staff from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) visited his family’s farm and determined he violated the Clean Water Act because he didn’t obtain the necessary Section 404 permit.

Diehl shared his story in Washington, D.C., so other farmers won’t face a similar situation.

“Ideally, the agencies would rewrite the rule to exempt conservation practices and prior converted cropland from being waters of the U.S.,” Diehl told FarmWeek.

In written comments, IFB has consistently asked agencies to clarify the rule and exempt prior converted cropland and conservation practices, in general. IFB has used grassed waterways as one example. They are scientifically proven to improve water quality, reduce soil waterways, only carry water following heavy rains and aren’t streams or tributaries subject to the Clean Water Act.

Meeting face-to-face, Lurkins said, helped illustrate IFB’s message even further.

“It helps bring the words on the page to life,” Lurkins said. “When we can show pictures of what they say is a ‘water of the U.S.’ – and it’s an erosion feature in a cornfield – a light bulb goes off.”

Where does WOTUS stand?

Complying with an executive order issued by President Donald Trump, the EPA proposed a two-step process to review and revise the rule put in place under President Barack Obama. The agencies continue to review comments on the proposal to repeal the 2015 rule.  Meanwhile, a proposed rule redefining “waters of the U.S.” has been drafted but remains under review by the administration.

EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers earlier this year changed the applicability date of the 2015 rule by two years to prevent the 2015 definition from going into effect until a new one is finalized. The South Carolina district court recently ruled the applicability date rule violated the Administrative Procedures Act – and ordered a nationwide injunction against the delay rule, making the rule effective in dozens of states, including Illinois. Other court orders have blocked the 2015 rule. This week, a Texas judge blocked implementation in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.