Protecting streams and wet-lands in the Midwest under the Clean Water Act helps our communities and is vital to our health, safety and quality of life.
Local rivers in Kansas — like the Kaw, Arkansas, Smoky Hill, Solomon, Neosho and Ninnes-cah — along with their network of tributaries and wetlands, are important to Kansas water quality, recreation, wildlife habitat, and flood abate-ment.
Two complex court decisions have muddled the law for the past 15 years, and we lost a clear understanding of which waters are protected and which aren’t. Working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, we’re releasing a proposed rule that clarifies which waters the law protects. Our proposal will smooth out wrinkles in the existing law; it does not add to or expand the scope of waters historically protected under the Clean Water Act.
The proposed rule does not change exemptions and ex-clusions for agriculture. We’ve worked closely with the agri-cultural community to avoid any surprises. The rule will not protect any new types of waters that haven’t historically been covered, and it will not regulate groundwater or tile drainage systems or increase regulation of ditches, whether they are irri-gation or drainage.
The EPA has worked arm in arm with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to make sure we’re addressing farmers’ concerns up front. Farmers and ranchers benefit when healthy wetlands and small streams are able to store floodwaters so that crops and pastures are not damaged or destroyed during floods. Farm-ers also need reliable water sources and available irrigation water to grow the crops that feed our nation.
From the Missouri River to the Ninnescah, the American water-scape is a defining part of our national identity. In the Midwest, we are blessed with a vast network of wetlands and streams that support our rivers: from small seasonal streams in Kansas to the Missouri River; from rare inland marsh habitats in the Cheyenne Bottoms to the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge.
Such refuges provide vital habitat for migratory birds in the Central Flyway of the U.S. and for many species of aquatic invertebrates, mammals and reptiles. Because of this diver-sity of water resources, previous interpretations of waters of the U.S. resulted in uncertainty. Clarifying Clean Water Act pro-tections will add certainty for farmers, developers and others.
People depend on streams, lakes and rivers for swimming, boating, wildlife and drinking water. According to a 2011 survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 90.1 million Americans — 38 percent of the U.S. population 16 years and older — fished, hunted or enjoyed wildlife-associated recreation. Hunters, anglers and wildlife recreationists spent $145 billion. Fishing attracted 33 million indivi-duals 16 years and older.
The proposed rule helps clear the way for the Clean Water Act to ensure clean, healthy waters. The proposed rule will be open for public comment for 90 days from publication in the Federal Register. To learn more about the proposal and the Clean WAter Act, visit http://www.epa.gov/-uswaters.
We’re committed to continuing to listen to everyone who has a stake in this. I urge you to voice your concerns and lend us your advice. That’s how we’ll get the final rule right.