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How the Obama Administration’s Clean Water Act Abuse Impacts Local Governments
While concern over the size and scope of our federal government grows, so does the government’s ambition to welcome itself into your backyard
May 22, 2014

The Obama Administration is currently attempting to expand the federal government's power under the Clean Water Act (CWA). EPW Republicans are concerned with the way this Administration's water-related policies threaten our nation's economy, families, farmers, and small business owners. Click here to read more.

If finalized, the proposed "waters of the United States" rule will result in a significant expansion of federal authority under the CWA. As the number of waters considered jurisdictional under the CWA increases, so do the impacts on our cities and counties. The term "navigable waters" appears more than 70 times through the CWA, and the proposed rule would redefine navigable waters every time it appears. Each time a water body is deemed to be a "waters of the United States," costly administrative and regulatory actions are imposed, and it is our local governments, and in turn, fellow citizens, who will bear a significant portion of the burden. Additionally, if finalized, the proposed rule would also subject our local governments to even more lawsuits from radical environmentalists. Here are a few concerns local governments should be aware of:

1. Costs to Maintain Your Community's Infrastructure Would Increase

The proposed "waters of the United States" rule would increase the number of ditches, such as roadside, flood channels, and others that will be subject federal jurisdiction. Necessary ditch maintenance activities, like clearing vegetation and debris, generally require Section 404 permits, which are costly and time-consuming to obtain. With more ditches subject to federal jurisdiction and more Section 404 permits required, the proposed rule would significantly increase the financial burdens on our cities and counties. These added costs will undoubtedly be passed on to local residents, as most cities and counties currently struggle to afford financial liabilities associated with regulatory requirements.

2. Stormwater Control Costs Would Increase, Burdening Local Governments

Under the proposed rule, all tributaries are considered "waters of the United States." Given that municipal storm water systems function as tributaries, they would also require the regulation of all flow into and out of the system. Thus, local governments would be responsible for meeting additional requirements to maintain stormwater infrastructure, which includes ditches, channels, pipes, and gutters. The cost of attainment to retrofit and maintain entire systems would be significant and burdensome.

3. Managing Local Water Supply Systems Would Be Hindered

In the proposed rule, there is an exemption for wastewater treatment systems but not for water supply systems, which encompass larger federal and State water delivery systems, as well as smaller reservoirs managed by cities and counties. Most water supply systems meet the new definition of a tributary and will therefore be subjected to federal jurisdiction. This could lead to management difficulties and obstruction of their essential function - transporting water to the millions of Americans who need it. Additionally, communities that are already struggling financially could face significant litigation costs from far-left environmental groups based in other parts of the country.

4. Investment in Water Reuse Facilities Would Be Discouraged

Under the proposed rule, water reuse facilities may also be considered "waters of the United States." Currently, many water reuse facilities are being constructed across the country to more efficiently manage water supply, and are used to irrigate agriculture, landscapes, golf courses, and sometimes even for consumption. Constructing these facilities require significant investment. However, the proposed rule would substantially increase the already high cost of building and maintaining these facilities, and could lead to a tapering down of investment and construction.

5. Lack of Definition for Floodplains & Riparian Areas Increases Cost and Uncertainty

Almost every city and county in the United States contains floodplain and riparian areas, and under the proposed rule, these areas would likely be considered a "water of the United States." Imposing such a sweeping categorical classification will dramatically increase the cost of development in such areas. Determining these boundaries requires significant resources that the majority of cities and counties simply do not have. For example, FEMA spent over $100 million annually in floodplain mapping. Failing to define the boundaries of floodplains and riparian areas will not only impose additional costs on local governments, but also add uncertainty, which is the exact opposite of what the EPA has claimed the proposed rule is meant to do.

 

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