EPA talks water rule on Missouri farm

Thirty-inch drain from Bill Heffernan's upland pond in Missouri

Thirty-inch drain from Bill Heffernan’s upland pond in Missouri

If farmers didn’t need a water permit before they won’t need one with the new rule of the Clean Water Act — That’s what EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy told members of the Kansas City AgriBusiness Council on Thursday, the day after she told that to reporters on a Missouri farm tour.

“Unless you’re really doing something that’s disturbing this in a significant way or adding pollutants downstream you never need to connect with EPA about it. It’s not as if we’re requiring a permit with a new rule that we didn’t have before.”

Ken Kopocis, EPA’s Senior Advisor in the Office of Water, pointed to upland ditches on Bill Heffernan’s farm that he says will NOT be regulated. He says just because a ditch, like the ones on the farm, connects to jurisdictional waters, , does not make the ditch itself jurisdictional.

“In fact, this is the first time that we’re proposing in rule language itself to put language in that says that these upland ditches that are providing the drainage function they were built for are explicitly excluded from the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act.”

EPA's Gina McCarthy says this water left in channel on Bill Heffernan's upland Missouri farmland won't be regulated

EPA’s Gina McCarthy says this water left in channel on Bill Heffernan’s upland Missouri farmland won’t be regulated

EPA Region 7 Administrator Karl Brooks, based in Kansas City, who was also on the tour said the EPA won’t be knocking at the farm gate.

“All kinds of decisions will need to be made and nobody will ever have to come and talk to the EPA and the Corps of Engineers because they’ll have that suite of practices, they’ll have that clarity that they didn’t have right now. That’s the point of the rule is to give that clarity so guys can make decisions in real time.”

Standard farming practices, whether through USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) programs or not, McCarthy stressed, will be exempt from the rule. She says that’s what her tours of farms and discussions with farmers is all about – “to get it right.”

Audio with Bill Heffernan and Gina McCarthy on farm tour (3:00 mp3)

AUDIO: Bill Heffernan, Karl Brooks, Ken Kopocis (6:30 mp3)

EPA on permits/jurisdiction in water rule

If farmers didn’t need a water permit before they won’t need one with the new rule of the Clean Water Act — That’s what EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy told members of the Kansas City AgriBusiness Council on Thursday, the day after she told that to reporters on a Missouri farm tour.

“Unless you’re really doing something that’s disturbing this in a significant way or adding pollutants downstream you never need to connect with EPA about it. It’s not as if we’re requiring a permit with a new rule that we didn’t have before,” McCarthy said on the farm tour.

Ken Kopocis, EPA’s Senior Advisor in the Office of Water, pointed to upland ditches on that farm that he says will NOT be regulated. He says just because a ditch connects to jurisdictional waters, like the ones on the farm, does not make the ditch itself jurisdictional…

“In fact,” said Kopocis on the tour, “This is the first time that we’re proposing in rule language itself to put language in that says that these upland ditches that are providing the drainage function they were built for are explicitly excluded from the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act.”

EPA Region 7 Administrator Karl Brooks, based in Kansas City, who was also on the tour said the EPA won’t be knocking at the farm gate…

“All kinds of decisions will need to be made and nobody will ever have to come and talk to the EPA and the Corps of Engineers because they’ll have that suite of practices, they’ll have that clarity that they didn’t have right now. That’s the point of the rule is to give that clarity so guys can make decisions in real time,” said Brooks on the farm tour.

Standard farming practices, whether through USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) programs or not, McCarthy stressed, will be exempt from the rule. She says that’s what her tours of farms and discussions with farmers is all about – “to get it right.”

Audio with Bill Heffernan and Gina McCarthy on farm tour (3:00 mp3)

AUDIO: Bill Heffernan, Karl Brooks, Ken Kopocis (6:30 mp3)

Gina McCarthy’s speech to the Kansas City AgriBusiness Council

Despite EPA’s assurances, skepticism remains

EPA administrator Gina McCarthy went to great lengths this week to assure farmers that the agency’s proposed Clean Water Act rule won’t have much impact on the way they farm.

McCarthy delivered that message during a conference call with reporters, a visit to a Missouri farm and an address to the Kansas City AgriBusiness Council.

But many farm leaders and politicians remain skeptical. Nebraska Senator Mike Johanns says the way it is written, the water rule is too vague and wide open to interpretation—which he says could create problems down the road.

“Five years from now, somebody has a new interpretation—or ten years from now—and all of a sudden you have a rule that no one would have ever anticipated went that far, “Johanns says. “But that’s what happens.”

Johanns has supported several legislative efforts to prevent the EPA from implementing the rule, including an amendment introduced this week to block the rule.

AUDIO: Mike Johanns (3:58 MP3)

EPA: What water matters and what doesn’t

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, Bill Heffernan, EPA Region 7 Administrator Karl Brooks at Heffernan's mid-Missouri farmA Missouri farmer says he learned some things from EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy that he’s doing right on his farm. Bill Heffernan and his partners farm 500 rolling acres of soybeans, corn, sorghum and cover crops in central Missouri. He was worried that one of his ponds would fall under the EPA’s Waters of the U.S. proposed rule in the Clean Water Act, about which, he has been very concerned. He tells Brownfield Ag News, “Oh absolutely (concerned). In fact, I’ve learned quite a bit hosting this. I know a lot more about my farm now than before.”

Heffernan says he found out his conservation practices exempt him from the rule, “The bottom line,  in a case like this you say what implications does it have for me and try to figure that out. And, in a sense, we can keep right on doing what we’re doing.”

Administrator McCarthy says her tour of Heffernan’s farm is the start of clarifying what water matters and what doesn’t on U.S. farms. McCarthy says, “The original rule actually DID regulate ditches and it wasn’t clear at all what ditches it didn’t regulate. When we started to explore that and put some clearer language in it raised everybody’s concern. We really need everybody’s input on what ditches matter and what ditches don’t. And, we think that, certainly for agriculture operations – the kind of ditches that are jurisdictional are very narrow – they’re very narrowly defined but we need help with it.”

McCarthy held a round table discussion with some Missouri farmers at the University of Missouri Bradford Research Center following this morning’s tour.  She will speak at the Kansas City AgriBusiness Council meeting on Thursday.

AUDIO: Interview with Bill Heffernan (6:00 mp3)

AUDIO: Gina McCarthy, Q & A with reporters after Heffernan farm tour (6:00 mp3)

Iowa’s Grassley decries EPA’s ‘power grab’

Despite strong and growing opposition from the ag community and many members of Congress, Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley does not expect the EPA to back off on its proposed water rule.

Grassley calls it “a big power grab” by EPA.

Grassley comments came Tuesday in response to a question posed by Brownfield’s Ken Anderson during the Senator’s weekly conference call with ag reporters.

AUDIO: Chuck Grassley (3:07 MP3)

EPA’s McCarthy on “misunderstandings”

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy admits the process the agency has taken to clarify ‘Waters of the U.S.’ in the Clean Water Act has caused misunderstandings in the ag community.

McCarthy tells reporters the Interpretive Rule put forth by the agency was meant to include not only all “normal” farming practices – as before – but also practices supported by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and to expand the list of practices.  She says it was NOT meant to put the NRCS in a position of regulating, adding, “It’s been interpreted as a narrowing. So that’s one of the issues we really need to talk about. I don’t think anyone in the farming community or the agriculture community or ranchers will disagree with the intent – it’s the form it took and the misunderstanding that that has generated.”

McCarthy says the Supreme Court required that the EPA make a rule that provides scientific clarity to benefit both the EPA and the ag community, “Not that we don’t like to hang around together but I think they would prefer the clarity so they know what they’re doing without thinking that EPA is going to have to visit!  I love them dearly but we don’t want that kind of relationship.”

McCarthy visits a farm in Missouri on Wednesday and will hold a discussion with local farmers to dispel what she says are numerous myths about the proposed rule.

AUDIO: Media conference call with Gina McCarthy and Bill Heffernan (15:00 mp3)

NMPF asks EPA to withdraw Clean Water proposal

The National Milk Producers Federation joining the chorus of farm groups expressing concern over EPA’s proposed guidance for the Clean Water Act. In fact, NMPF is asking the EPA to withdraw the proposal.

The EPA guidance, officially called an Interpretive Rule, was issued in March. It says producers are only exempt from needing Clean Water Act permits for more than 50 routine farming practices if they comply with Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) standards. Until now, these standards have been voluntary, and the farming practices exempt from the permit process.

In comments filed Monday, NMPF said the guidance changes NRCS’s role from conservation partner to EPA enforcer. As a result, they think farmers would be less-likely to implement water conservation practices.

The dairy group contends, “While EPA argues that meeting the NRCS standards is still voluntary, in practice it is mandatory, since failure to comply may expose farmers to legal liability.” They are also concerned that, “more than 100 farming practices covered by NRCS standards but not listed the IR are left under a cloud of suspicion and further expose a farmer to legal liability.”

Read the NMPF comments here:

Water rule could impact smaller livestock producers the most

The director of legal and regulatory affairs with the Nebraska Cattlemen’s organization, Kristen Hassebrook, says smaller livestock producers could be the ones most impacted by the EPA’s proposed “Waters of the U.S.” rule.

We visited with Hassebrook at last week’s “Common Sense Nebraska” event near Alda, Nebraska.

AUDIO: Kristen Hassebrook (2:02 MP3)

Beware of flooded wells

With the recent heavy rains in some areas there is increased danger of private wells becoming contaminated. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources encourages well owners, especially in flooded areas to monitor their water closely. Any change in the color, smell or taste of water could indicate a problem.

Flood waters and runoff contain bacteria and other contaminants that can cause water-borne illness. Wells located in pits, basements and low-lying areas are especially susceptible to contamination. If you think your system is contaminated, stop using the water immediately and have the well tested.

Any water supply system submerged by flood waters should be pumped out once the floodwater recedes, then thoroughly disinfected and tested to determine that the water is safe. Disinfection and sampling is best done by a licensed well driller or pump installer.

Well owners are also encouraged to test their wells annually for bacteria and nitrates.

EPA to tour farms and discuss water rule

EPA officials will be meeting with farmers and other ag folks this summer about their proposal on “Waters of the U.S.”

The EPA says its Administrator Gina McCarthy will try to “clear up misunderstandings” about the rule and urge the ag industry to submit formal comments on it.  The EPA extended the public comment period to October.

McCarthy will visit a Missouri farm next week.