Diverse Groups Protest Federal ‘Water Grab’ Bill

Published February 1, 2008

A diverse group of grassroots organizations and business and civic groups has come together to oppose the proposed Federal Clean Water Restoration Act, which many call the Federal Water Grab Bill.

The bill would strip state oversight of minor waterways and for the first time give federal bureaucrats control over millions of acres of drainage ditches, seasonal ponds, and small waterways that have no significant impact on larger bodies of water.

Nationwide Opposition

Opposition to the federal proposal was expressed on December 5 when members of Congress, state legislators, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Property Rights Alliance, Partnership for America, and Americans for American Energy joined the National Farm Bureau Federation, American Property Coalition, and Western Business Roundtable on the steps of the Longworth House Office Building in Washington, DC.

Strong opposition also has been expressed outside of Washington in town meetings, state capitols, and newspaper editorials across the country.

“The scope of this legislation is breathtaking,” said Larry Wooten, president of the North Carolina Farm Bureau. “It will raise costs for farmers and homeowners while also burdening state and local governments.”

Huge Power Shift

“[B]y eliminating one word–navigable–and replacing it with the term ‘waters of the United States,’ the legislation would give the federal government authority over anything that is wet, as well as any activity on land that could affect water,” explained the North Carolina Coalition for Clean Water in a December 18 news release.

“That term has always been used to signal a balance between federal and state authority,” noted Don Parrish, senior director of regulatory relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF).

“When the word ‘navigable’ is taken out, [it makes] everything federal water–without regard to volume and flow. That means gutters, ditches, seasonal wet spots, even groundwater. That’s a very big deal,” Parrish said.

Unprecedented Federal Power

Even supporters of the proposed legislation acknowledge it is a monumental expansion of federal power. In an interview with the December 19 Sioux Falls Argus Leader, Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) argued even seasonal puddles in America’s farm belt, known as “prairie potholes,” would come under federal jurisdiction.

“Most of the ducks that migrate across our skies in the spring and fall are hatched and raised on prairies,” Dingell asserted.

“Remove [the puddles] and you remove the ducks,” Dingell claimed.

Farmers in Crosshairs

“Farmers and ranchers are especially concerned about the combination of these [changes] to a law that has already proved its effectiveness,” countered John Youngberg, vice president of governmental affairs for the Montana Farm Bureau Federation, in the December 15 Twin Falls, Idaho Ag Weekly.

“With these changes,” Youngberg said, “ordinary roadside ditches, stock tanks, and ponds would be subject to extensive regulation and permitting. Even low spots in fields farmed for decades would be subject to extensive reviews.”

Parrish expressed similar concern. “We’re strongly opposed to H.R. 2421. There are at least a half dozen things we find problematic with this bill,” he said.

“For the first time ever, federal agencies would gain authority over all ‘activities’ affecting these waters,” said American Property Coalition President Linda Runbeck. “Under the bill’s broad definition of water, few activities would not be regulated by EPA or the Corps of Engineers, whether or not they take place in water.”

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is a senior fellow of The Heartland Institute and managing editor of Environment & Climate News.