The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this week has convened a Science Advisory Board to conduct a review of a draft report that redefines how waterways are connected and therefore what is subject to EPA regulation.
The Water Body Connectivity draft report, which was released in September, will be reviewed for scientific validity by the board. The agency will base its rule defining the Waters of the United States on the report.
According to the National Corn Growers Association, which is monitoring the panel's progress, the review has "proceeded in a constructive yet inquisitive manner" that NCGA hopes "will lead to findings that positively impact the final rule."
Some ag groups are concerned that the report will allow EPA to broaden Clean Water Act jurisdiction, leading to regulation of "man-altered and man-made water bodies, including farm ditches, tile drainage and field filter strips," the National Pork Producers Council said in November.
NCGA Production and Stewardship Action Team Chair Don Glenn, an Alabama farmer, added that the proceedings of the review panel could have real-world implications for farmers in their fields.
"Farmers take their responsibility to care for natural resources very seriously, and we depend upon clean water to maintain thriving operations. At the same time, we urge all involved to consider the vital question of how large a body of water has to be to have a significant impact," Glenn said in a Tuesday NCGA statement.
"To be effective, rules need to be both practical and have a basis in credible science. Our goal is to find effective, practical solutions that will lead to a bright future for our land, air and water," Glenn added.
Prior to the panel review, NCGA submitted comments to the EPA suggesting that there were both positive aspects to the report and potentially flawed portions.
In those comments, NCGA said it urged the Science Advisory Board to consider a handful of crucial concerns.
While the considerable amount of science makes a contribution to our understanding of the need to work in the entire watershed to achieve water quality goals, there is a marked lack of science that allows the report to guide decisions as to what is or is not a water of the United States," the comments said.
NCGA said that the report does not address the problem of when and where and how there might be a significant nexus between remote drainage features or isolated waters like wetlands and the downstream navigable waters or their tributaries.
In addition, NCGA said the report "does not make critical distinctions between drainage features and streams or other waterways, and as a result implies that essentially every drainage feature in agricultural areas could merit designation as a water of the United States."
A group of legislators also weighed in on the issue in November, specifically calling for the Science Advisory Board review.
The review continues until Wednesday, Dec. 18.