Here’s a guest column (The Pueblo Chieftain) from Sallie Clark dealing with the Environmental Protection Agencie’s proposed clarification of “Waters of the US” under the Clean Water Act:
Coloradans have a special appreciation for the beauty of nature all around us. Everyone benefits from the beauty and bounty of America’s rivers, streams, lakes and other waterways. Of course, these natural resources should be protected from irresponsible polluters, and regulations are in place to ensure clean water in our communities.
But, there is a proposal afoot that would extend federal jurisdiction and accompanying regulations far beyond what makes sense. The National Association of Counties (NACo) sees this proposal as a critical issue, and in my role as First Vice President of NACo and a Colorado county commissioner, I am concerned about how these rule changes will impact local communities.
A new rule, proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers, would erase the distinction between bodies of water — such as streams and lakes — and ditches on the side of a road. According to the proposed redefinition of “Waters of the U.S.,” a river would be no different than a public safety ditch; a lake no different than an emergency flood mitigation system.
This latest example of over-regulation makes no sense and creates more confusion than it seeks to address.
Local water conveyances, such as ditches and flood control channels, may fall under federal regulation in this unworkable proposal. It is unclear how far it would extend into drainage systems. That means counties would be required to obtain federal permits to do routine maintenance work on a roadside ditch or storm-water drain. These are essential components of effective water management.
In many cases, the nation’s counties are responsible for maintaining storm drains and other water conveyance systems that keep people safe from rising waters. They often pay a high price to wait for the federal government to issue permits. This new red tape would slow down the process even more and potentially put more people in harm’s way by inhibiting projects that keep water off of roads and away from homes.
The costs and delays of this federal over-regulation would have a significant impact on public safety and economic prosperity. To give a concrete example of some of these concerns, maintaining drainage is critical to keeping our roads safe and open for use, and it requires daily attention. Increasing fees due to additional regulatory permitting for all runoff, as anticipated by the proposal, could bring maintenance efforts to a halt.
How this regulation would be administered is unclear and would be especially cumbersome if it went directly through federal offices not adequately equipped to accommodate heavier permitting.
The expense for plan preparation would add costs not accounted for in our existing budgets.
If fully exercised every basic culvert maintenance or repair could be held up, placing not only a burden on counties financially, but also putting citizens at risk due to delays, as all work would have to first be reviewed and approved by a federal agency.
The approach taken by this proposal would drain local budgets and create delays in critical, time-crucial repairs with no demonstrated long-term environmental benefit.
Federal over-regulation and unfunded mandates unnecessarily hinder counties’ ability to get things done for local citizens. All of us want to protect the environment, but we cannot allow over-regulation to do more harm than good.
Sallie Clark is first vice president of the National Association of Counties and an El Paso County Commissioner.
More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.