Collins: Feds turning puddles into dangerous waters for farms

The Daily News

By Jim Krencick

LE ROY — Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, is raising alarm that Clean Water Act revisions under EPA and Army Corps of Engineers consideration would expand the waterways under federal authority — and constrict farm families’ control over their fields.

The EPA and Army Corps introduced a proposed rule last month that would clarify protection for which streams, wetlands and water sources are protected by federal rules.

According to the EPA, the proposed rule would continue exemptions for agriculture by not covering groundwater, tile drains nor protect any new types of water found on farmland.

But Collins, speaking at Stein Farms in Le Roy, sees small but significant changes in the proposal effectively replacing the “navigable waters of the U.S.” covered under EPA and Army Corps jurisdiction with “waters of the U.S.,” bringing in nearly every bit of standing water under federal protections.

Doing so would place an unfair burden on farms already using best practices for water conservation and water quality, he argued.

“This allows the EPA and Army Corps to come in and make life harder for farms,” Collins said. “It’s an overly broad definition. A pothole is not a navigable water.”

New York Farm Bureau President Dean Norton joined Collins, Shelley Stein and Dale Stein in calling for the rule to be withdrawn. Norton said it could be stretched to contain even puddles and shallow pools if they remain for as little as four days, as they may be connected underground to larger waterways.

For the Steins, the potential of the rule change was easy to see.

Puddles and little streams of water formed in the fields and ruts of ground surrounding a barn of milking cows, the result of steady rains throughout the area Tuesday. The shallow pools and freezing trickles were a far cry from the waterways normally covered by federal oversight, and a natural part of filtering water through the soil, Shelley Stein said.

“Should the EPA be successful in gaining the rule change to label each temporary puddle from precipitation as “navigable waters,” our daily farm operation activity would stop,” Shelley Stein said. “As proponents of clean water, we know that water filtering by soil is an important process. We want the soils to perform as intended.”

They also know how Clean Water Act issues can overrule their plans for land use.

“There’s land that we rent where we can’t re-open ditches because the right person didn’t sign-off on the right spot 29 years ago,” Dale Stein said. “We know our land better than anyone else.”

To that end, Collins said he is working with more than 160 of his Congressional colleagues who’ve signed onto a letter opposing the proposed rule. He hopes an uproar against the change will reverse it, as opposition to a Department of Labor proposal covering youth working at their family’s farms was rescinded under similar circumstances.

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