It’s called the water rule, but the controversial proposal by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is really all about land and who gets to decide how it is managed — landowners or the federal bureaucrats. That’s why Farm Bureau members and others are working so hard to ditch it.

The proposal, first published in April, seeks to clarify the definition of what is considered a navigable water or "water of the United States" under the Clean Water Act. The agencies have taken a very expansive view.

The EPA and Corps contend that navigable waters subject to regulation should extend to ditches, small "headwater" tributaries riparian areas, adjacent waters and other areas far away from rivers, lakes and private ponds that would not come close to floating a boat. The regulations are in order, the agencies say, even if these areas may only hold or convey water for a short time after a heavy rain.

The agencies don’t stop there. They also add a provision that they can regulate "other waters" on a case-by-case basis.

In a state like Iowa, which gets its fair share of rain, the proposal appears to cover nearly every acre in the state. If that happens, farmers would have to obtain a federal permit for many farming activities because it could cause a discharge into this greatly-expanded universe of regulated waters.

A flood of permits

Fertilizing and pesticide applications would likely require permits. Putting in a fence would require one, too. Installing any type of conservation structure, such as a terrace, a sediment basin or pond, would need a permit.

These aren’t small matters. A farmer found out of compliance with the Clean Water Act faces potential fines of $37,500 per day and possibly activist lawsuits.

In the end, the proposed rule poses a clear threat to landowners’ right to farm. It could also jeopardize the encouraging progress on conservation and water quality that Iowa farmers have made over the years. This proposal is bureaucracy gone amok, and it needs to be dumped.

To find out more about the proposed water rule, go to the American Farm Bureau Federation webpage, The EPA is taking comments on the proposed water rule through October 20. For more information on how to make comments, go to Iowa Farm Bureau's "Ditch the Rule" site.