In my visits with farmers, I’ve been thoroughly impressed over the past 18 months by the number of Iowa farmers who are stepping up to reduce soil loss and improve water quality using the techniques outlined in the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

Iowa farmers, from every age group and from all parts of the state, are excited about cover crops, terraces, buffer strips, bioreactors or a whole range of other conservation practices. They are becoming very invested in the success of the Iowa voluntary water quality initiative.

And they aren’t just talking the talk. They are stepping forward and investing a lot of their own money and time to make the improvements on their own farms.

But this enthusiasm could be sapped, and maybe crushed, if a proposed rule to greatly expand water regulations moves forward.

That proposal, from the En­­vironmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of En­­gineers, takes a very expansive view in defining navigable waters, or those that can be subject to regulation under the Clean Water Act. The proposal’s definition of a navigable water extends well beyond rivers and streams, to ditches, small "headwaters" tributaries and riparian areas, while narrowing the definition of normal farming practices that are exempt.

It’s pretty safe bet to say that in a state like Iowa very few acres would be immune.

A flood of red tape

That could potentially force most farmers to apply for a federal permit every time they want to plant a grass waterway, clean out a ditch or plant a buffer strip, or at least document that these were done according to detailed government standards and specifications. And obtaining federal permits would likely include public hearings and a flood of red tape.

It appears to me, and to a lot of people with a lot of knowledge about conservation, that the EPA-Corps proposal may be about the surest way to stop the conservation and water quality momentum that has been building in Iowa. And it’s a very good reason to ditch this proposed rule.

The EPA is taking comments on the proposed water rule through Oct. 20. Check out more information on the EPA rule and how you can comment.