A proposed rule change to the Clean Water Act has been created to clarify what is and what is not protected under a law that was passed by Congress in 1972 but later muddied by at least three Supreme Court rulings.

The rule changes, which were jointly developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency, will be available for public comment for 90 days following publication in the Federal Register.

In a webcast sponsored Monday, April 7, by EPA’s Watershed Academy, Nancy Stoner, Acting Assistant Administrator, Office of Water, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, discussed how the proposed changes will affect agriculture and other industries. “We want to explain why the rule is important and why it doesn’t change much on the ground,” she said.

She said the rule will benefit agriculture.

“We worked very hard to not only make sure the proposed rule doesn’t have a negative impact on agriculture, but that it actually benefits those involved in farming, ranching, and forestry.”

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Previous exemptions for agriculture will remain in place. Those include:

  • Normal farming, silviculture, and ranching practices.
  • Upland soil and water conservation practices.
  • Agricultural storm water discharges.
  • Return flows from irrigated agriculture. 
  • Construction/maintenance of farm or stock ponds or irrigation ditches on dry land. 
  • Maintenance of drainage ditches.
  • Construction or maintenance of farm, forest, and temporary mining roads.
  • Artificially irrigated areas that would revert to upland if irrigation stops.
  • Artificial lakes or ponds created by excavating and/or diking dry land and used for such purposes as rice growing, stock watering or irrigation.
  • Artificial ornamental waters created for primarily aesthetic reasons.
  • Water-filled depressions created as a result of construction activity.
  • Pits excavated in upland for fill, sand, or gravel.
  • Prior converted cropland.
  • Waste treatment systems (including treatment ponds or lagoons).