Our View: Water quality doesn't improve with hyperbole

The Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Water Rule aims to more clearly define which tributaries fall under regulations of the 1972 Clean Water Act.

Clean water advocates know how fast myths and rumors can spread.

As the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers prepared early drafts of the Clean Water Rule, their work was challenged with claims that it could be used to regulate mud puddles. "The first time it came out, I remember (EPA officials) saying that 'that's absurd,'" said Todd Ambs, director of Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition.

Still, EPA officials sought to address such comments, noting in the 299-page rule that puddles aren't regulated tributaries under the Clean Water Act. They went as far as defining puddles for any naysayers unable to comprehend the message.

Years in the making, the proposed rule is an effort to clarify Clean Water Act protections following ambiguous Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006. Since the first draft of the rule was released more than a year ago, a million citizens offered comments, with more than four out of five supporting the changes

Yet, concerns continue as the effort to clarify Clean Water Act protections moves forward. Since it's release in late May, industry and farming advocates have been plowing through the proposal to determine potential impacts.


When it comes to farms, the EPA and many supporting groups say there is no impact. "It's not the earth-shattering threat to agriculture that some folks would like people to believe," said Deanna White, the Minnesota state director of Clean Water Action.

But doubts remain, which is understandable. However, hyperbole voiced to attract attention and spur legislative action isn't. Such arguments aren't based on reality.

Still, clean water advocates expect as much. "I feel, quite frankly, any environmental protection that is put on place is going to get pushback these days," said Steve Morse, executive director of Minnesota Environmental Partnership.

Such pushback came Wednesday when the U.S. Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee advanced a bill seeking to overturn the new EPA rule before it is put up for official review. Minnesota Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar have noted opposition to the latest action while also staying fairly quiet regarding the proposed rule.

In the House, First District Congressman Tim Walz has been asking questions, White said.

Those are stances we want to see from our lawmakers at this point. Legislators will have 60 days to make decisions on the rule once it advances. We are happy to see Southeast Minnesota's congressional delegation appears to be keeping open minds while trying to determine what is best for the water supply that is crucial for each and every person in the nation.

While they are doing that, we encourage local environmental groups to raise awareness and work to answer questions for farmers, developers and others who worry the new rule will give the EPA too much power.

It's important to remember our state's high water-quality standards mean many concerns voiced in other states don't apply for Minnesotans. However, the rule will help define the status of 627 miles of Minnesota streams and thousands of acres of wetlands in regulatory limbo.


Beyond that, it's clear the Clean Water Rule will help other states rise to Minnesota's high standards, unifying the loose patchwork of regulations seen today.

As such, it's a step in the right direction — one that will continue to face pushback and doubts, but one worth taking.

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