Agriculture groups and farm state lawmakers cheered the Trump administration’s move last week to begin dismantling the Waters of the United States or WOTUS rule.

Calling WOTUS "one of the worst examples of federal regulation," President Donald Trump signed an executive order that requires the Environmental Pro­tection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to begin the process of rescinding or revising the WOTUS rule.

The rule, which threatened to put huge portions of private land under Clean Water Act regulations, was enacted by the two agencies in 2015. But the implementation of WOTUS has been held up by suits filed in federal courts.

The president’s action to begin the process of ditching WOTUS is very good news for Iowa farmers, said Craig Hill, president of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF). The IFBF, along with the American Farm Bureau Fed­eration (AFBF), have led the fight to oppose WOTUS.

"This was an example of a federal agency creating its own authorities and definitions not authorized by Congress," Hill said. "All property owners should rejoice that this ill-conceived rule will now be set aside."

Big impact on farmers

The WOTUS rule, Hill said, was particularly consequential for Iowa’s farmers because it affected common land-use decisions and practices that are essential for agricultural production. The rule, he said, created uncertainty and confusion, while threatening to bury farmers in red tape.

Zippy Duvall, AFBF president, called WOTUS a "federal land grab aimed at telling farmers and ranchers how to run their businesses."

The federal agencies, Duvall said, failed to listen to farmers’ concerns when drafting the rule and instead created widespread confusion for agriculture. Under the rule, the smallest pond or ditch could be declared a federal waterway, he said.

"Farmers and ranchers have been calling for a commonsense approach to regulatory reform, and today the Trump administration responded to that call," Duvall said after the executive order was issued Feb. 28.

Iowa lawmakers also applauded the Trump administration’s action on WOTUS.

"This is great news for accountability in government," said Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley. "The regulation was crafted outside of the agency’s authority in a process that left out the states and other key parties that were affected by the rule. And legitimate concerns raised during the public comment period were ignored and manipulated."

Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, who helped lead the effort in Congress to scrap WOTUS, said: "I’m thrilled that Washington is finally standing up for our rural communities and holding our government accountable as we move forward toward finally eliminating this burdensome and overreaching rule."

Ernst noted that WOTUS would have given regulators extensive power to regulate water on 97 percent of the land in the state of Iowa, breeding uncertainty and confusion for many in Iowa and across the country.

Scott Pruitt, the new EPA administrator who spoke last week at the AFBF Advocacy Conference, said the WOTUS review is just the start of creating more balance in the government’s environmental regulations.

Steps ahead

"There are going to be many steps ahead, and we’re going to make sure we do so being mindful of protecting our water, protecting our air, protecting our natural resources," he said.  

Pruitt also told Farm Bureau leaders that the federal government will no longer impose one-size-fits-all solutions on the states. Instead, he said, he considers the states to be allies in the effort to preserve natural resources. "We’re going to go back to the states and say, ‘We want you to be our partners, not our adversaries.’"

IFBF’s Hill also emphasized that farmers in Iowa are stepping up to take on the challenge of improving water quality and reduce soil loss. "These voluntary efforts by farmers, which can be tailored to specific conditions on each farm, are far superior to the top-down, one-size-fits-all approach of government agencies with rules like WOTUS," he said.