A series of maps released last week by the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) clearly show how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will be able to radically expand its jurisdiction under the controversial Waters of the United States or WOTUS rule.

The rule, which is expected to take effect Aug. 28, has sparked lawsuits by more than half of the states, which are trying to block it, and strong criticism from the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF) and most other farm organizations as well as a bipartisan set of lawmakers.

In addition, recent documents have shown that officials with the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, which developed the WOTUS rule along with the EPA, had serious concerns about how the rule would be enforced and believed that the EPA has abused the rule-making process to achieve its objective.

The AFBF maps, prepared by Geosyntec Consulting, show the dramatic expansion of EPA’s regulatory reach, stretching across wide swaths of land in Pennsylvania, Virginia and Montana. In Pennsylvania, for example, 99 percent of the state’s total acreage is subject to EPA scrutiny. Landowners have no re­­liable way to know which of the waters and land within that area will be regulated, yet they must still conform their activities to the new law.

It’s much the same in Iowa, based on an analysis by the IFBF.

While the final WOTUS rule is vague, the analysis shows that large portions of the land in Iowa would fall into the EPA’s regulatory net.

Significant nexus

Under one part of the rule, the EPA can determine any water located within 4,000 feet of a tributary to have a "significant nexus" and thus be defined as a water of the U.S. 

Using that feet number, nearly 97 percent of Iowa’s land is potentially covered by the rule.

"Farmers face enforcement action and severe penalties under EPA’s new rule for using the same safe, scientifically sound and federally approved crop protection tools they’ve used for years," said Bob Stallman, AFBF president.

Setting up farmers

"This rule creates a new set of tools for harassing farmers in court and does it all with language that is disturbingly vague and subject to abuse by future regulators. It’s worth saying again: The EPA needs to withdraw this rule and start over."

The vague, incomprehensible changes in the Clean Water Act jurisdiction raise many questions about continuing common agricultural practices in or around grassed waterways and ephemeral features such as gullies and ponded water in fields.

Any unpermitted discharge — whether pesticides, fertilizer or even disturbed soil — will leave farmers vulnerable to enforcement by the EPA, the Corps or private citizens, with severe potential penalties. This means unless farmers are able to navigate the regulatory system to secure a costly Clean Water Act permit, farming in many areas will be significantly restricted.