Agricultural organizations are marshaling forces to defeat a proposed rule by the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Corps of Engineers that would expand the regulatory authority of those agencies under the Clean Water Act, with significant impact on U.S. farming practices, they say.

“If it’s water, and you see it every day, you might as well assume under this rule that it’s federal water,” says Andy Whittington, environmental programs coordinator for the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation, who spoke at the joint annual meeting of the Mississippi Boll Weevil Management Corporation and MFBF’s Cotton Policy Committee.

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The proposed rule would give the two agencies the power to dictate land use decisions and farming practices on or near waters and land features covered by the rule, he says, and would make it more difficult to farm or to change a farming operation in order to remain competitive and profitable.

In a recent Arizona hearing on the issue, Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., said, “This is not about the environment — this is about a power grab.” His fellow Arizona Republican representative, David Schweikert, said the rule would not affect only farmers — “It potentially affects everyone.”

Permit requirements under the rule — which would change the definition of “navigable waters” to include smaller waters, ditches, small ponds, and even depressions in fields and pastures that are only wet when there is heavy rain, streams, and even some dry land — would be particularly onerous for agriculture, Whittington says.

“For example, if you run a five-shank ripper through the soil without a Section 404 permit from the Corps of Engineers, you could be in violation of the Clean Water Act,” he says. “They would consider any plow that runs more than 18 inches deep as changing the hydrology of the soil.”