A new rule attempting to define Waters of the United States (WOTUS) creates new uncertainties for farmers and landowners, Farm Bureau said last week. 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corps of Engineers released the 514-page rule Dec. 30, reverting to many provisions that were in place prior to 2015. Updates to Clean Water Act rules established by the Obama administration in 2015 and the Trump administration in 2020 were struck down by court rulings. 

“The Iowa Farm Bureau is disappointed by today’s Waters of the United States (WOTUS) Rule issued by EPA. This latest rule creates even more complicated regulations and uncertainty regarding farmland far removed from navigable waters,” said Iowa Farm Bureau President Brent Johnson, a Calhoun County farmer. “Iowa farmers share the goal of protecting our waterways and continue to make big strides in conservation progress. Complicated overregulation requiring a team of lawyers and consultants to identify ‘navigable waters’ on farmers’ own land does nothing to advance our successful water quality efforts." 

The rule’s reliance on vague terms will make it difficult for farmers or any business trying to comply with the Clean Water Act, according to the Waters Advocacy Coalition, which in­cludes nearly 50 organizations representing agriculture, energy, construction, manufacturing and other business interests. 

Among the troublesome provisions are rules governing ephemeral streams, which only flow in response to precipitation, and keeping in place the “significant nexus” test for determining jurisdictional waters, which will allow the agencies to regulate small or intermittent water features.

In addition, the agencies could be forced to make some adjustments to the new rule when the Supreme Court issues its decision on the case of Sackett v. EPA, which is expected early this year. The back and forth over water regulations continues to impede farmers’ efforts to protect resources and will make it more difficult for farmers and ranchers to ensure food security, Johnson said.

“The timing of EPA’s new rule with a pending Supreme Court decision on the scope of the Clean Water Act is perplexing,” he said. “A ruling in that case could send WOTUS back to the drawing board, which would add to farmers’ confusion and uncertainty regarding the latest rule.”  

The rule takes effect 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register.