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Dear EPA: Does my backyard belong to you?

Dear EPA: Does my backyard belong to you?
When my wife and I bought our home a couple years ago, we envisioned a backyard for kids and dogs – a fence, a swing set, and a nice lawn.

A new proposal by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has me looking at our yard differently.

According to the Clean Water Act, Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court, EPA has authority to regulate "navigable" water – you know, water that floats a boat. But EPA has proposed a rule that would define the agency’s jurisdiction much more broadly – to also include land that could potentially retain water for any period of time (e.g. puddles and ditches).

That’s a problem.

You see, in addition to the fence, swing set, and lawn, my backyard also features a low-lying area that collects waters and channels it away from the yard a couple times a year - minutes or hours after a series of major storms.

It looks just like the rest of my yard 364-plus days out of the year.

But it does meet my layman's definition of occasionally retaining water. So I'm wondering – does it belong to me or EPA?

If my yard "belongs" to (i.e. is under the authority of) EPA, does that mean I'd have to obtain a permit to construct a fence, spray weeds, or build a swing set? Would I be subject to a penalty if I didn’t?

It sounds far-fetched, right? Why would EPA want to nose around my backyard and issue fines?

I'm not saying they will – of course, I’m hopeful they won’t. I’d like to believe EPA when they say they’re only trying to enact a rule that “clarifies” the requirements for farmers and other landowners. Unfortunately, the written rule delivers a foggy message.

And before you write this off as my personal problem, think of other land and structures in Iowa that are typically dry, but may retain water after a series of storms. It shouldn’t be too hard to think of examples after all of the rain we’ve received this summer.

You may doubt that EPA will assess fines in many of these instances, but do you really want to grant the agency new, expansive authority to do so?

EPA is accepting comments on its proposed rule through October 20. Learn more about the proposal and how you can comment on it here.

By Zach Bader . Zach is Iowa Farm Bureau’s Online Community Manager.