Making Clear Rules for Clean Water
As a farmer, I care deeply about the impact I have in my hometown of Fisher, IL, population 1,961. But I also care about the effects of my farm and others on the 129,000 people in Champaign-Urbana, some 20 miles away. While I take great pride in the thousands of people my corn and soybeans feed, I take just as much pride in how I care for the land and water.
My farm land is not only my bread and butter, so to speak, it’s where I raise my family, and where I hope my children will one day raise children of their own. With my own family’s future in mind, I make every effort to ensure I keep our land and water healthy. I use every technological tool I can—and some not-too-techie ones too—to make sure I’m using the exact amount of fertilizer and other things I need to plant, grow and harvest healthy crops.
There are certain things I can’t plan for or control—like most of what Mother Nature throws my way—early frost, late frost, drought, or a good rain at a bad time. But I always plan my farming around government regulations, at least if I can understand them.
Three years ago, when the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issueda flawed “waters of the U.S.” rule, I was drowning in confusion.And I certainly wasn’t the only one. I don’t think there was a farmer or rancher out there who could tell which ditches, swales and low spots on our farms were suddenly regulated as “waters of the U.S.” To say we were worriedis an understatement. All of a sudden, I didn’t know if the routine farming and conservation practices I had used for years—to the betterment of my crops and land—were going to put me on the wrong side of the law.
Farmers, ranchers, home builders, small business owners, towns, cities, counties and states were all wading through the mire to figure outwhich activities would openus tofines of more than $50,000 per day. Even government officials were hard-pressed to tell you where the lines were under the rule. If you asked three different agency field staff to evaluate the same farm on the same day, you’d likely get three different answers.
I very much want clean water and take seriously my role in ensuring that what I do on my farm protects our water resources. But paralyzing small businesses with uncertainty and “gotcha” enforcement of vague regulations was not the way to make the water any cleaner. Clear rules will be more effective at protecting water and provide us with more honest, transparent government.And that is the point of a new Clean Water Rule just announced by the administration. It’s the kind of rule we should all be able to support.
There’s a lot at stake here: protecting water quality, producing safe and affordable food, and preserving a strong economy and the hundreds of thousands of farming- and ranching-related jobs that our communities depend on. It’s worth the time that the EPA and Corps have taken over the last two years to get this right. Thankfully, theproposed new ruleprovides more clarity so farmers like me can do the right thing: comply with the law, protect the environment, and grow the crops that feed our people and our economy. That’s why I support clear rules for clean water.
EPA has opened a public comment period to take comments on the new water rule through April 15. Let EPA know you support clear rules andclean water by leaving a comment athttps://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/02/14/2019-00791/revised-definition-of-waters-of-the-united-states.
Mike Briggs is a corn and soybean farmer in Champaign County. He also serves as President of the Champaign County Farm Bureau.