PARKERSBURG - The Wood County chapter of the West Virginia Farm Bureau will host a meeting at the Judge Black Annex, 313 Market St., at 7 p.m. May 29 to inform local farmers about the potential repercussions of the March 25 update to the federal Clean Water Act.
The March 25 update to the Clean Water Act is in its 90-day comment period, scheduled to end on July 21.
The W.Va. Farm Bureau is encouraging local farmers to provide commentary about the bill before the comment period closes. The local meeting is one of a series throughout West Virginia designed to educate farmers about the details of the Clean Water Act update, a W.Va. Farm Bureau press release said.
The local meeting of the Wood County Farm Bureau will feature an approximately 30-minute-long presentation by officials from the W.Va. Farm Bureau, explaining how the updated wording of the Clean Water Act affects local farmers.
According to Janet Wigal, secretary of the Wood County chapter of the W.Va. Farm Bureau, the update takes away a farmer's right to use his land for farming.
"Any little ditch on your property with water can now be ruled on by the (Environmental Protection Agency)," Wigal said. "It will sink farmers and destroy industries across America," she said.
According to a statement by the president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, Bob Stallman, "The EPA proposal poses a serious threat to farmers, ranchers and other landowners. Under EPA's proposed new rule, waters, even ditches, are regulated even if they are miles from the nearest 'navigable' waters. Indeed, so-called 'waters' are regulated even if they aren't wet most of the time."
Other agencies disagree with the reaction the W.Va. Farm Bureau is having to the March 25 update.
"The EPA is attempting to provide clarity over those waters that are regulated and those that are not," said Jim Kotcon, conservation chairman of the W.Va. chapter of the Sierra Club, a national conservation group.
U.S. Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 made determining which waters and steams are protected under the Clean Water Act difficult, the epa.gov website said.
The update to the Clean Water Act on March 25 is the EPA's attempts to clarify which waters are considered "waters of the U.S." by defining them properly, Kotcon said.
"Some areas which are considered wetlands will now be regulated, yes," Kotcon said. "This does not mean that all puddles are wetlands," he said.
The updates to the Clean Water Act will primarily affect wetlands and streams, Kotcon said. The majority of the affected areas are low-lying, he said. Most highland areas will not be affected by the bill, Kotcon said.
Statements made on the ditchtherule.fb.org website, to which the W.Va. Farm Bureau directs people in its press release, indicate that section 404 of the Clean Water Act March 25 update "requires anyone wanting to discharge 'dredge and fill' material into navigable waters to obtain a federal permit."
The ditchtherule website indicated that since all ditches, puddles, and irrigation canals are now considered "navigable waters," farmers won't be able to farm without violating federal laws unless they obtain a Clean Water Act permit.
Kotcon urges farmers to review the new rules carefully and use the public comment period as it was meant to be used: to collect meaningful data and comments from directly affected people.
"Farmers should take a careful look at what is included in the wording," Kotcon said. "If there are specific issues relating to an individual farm, now is the time to send comments," he said.
The bill update is designed to add protection to existing streams, wetlands and other waters of the U.S., Kotcon said.
"Undue alarmism is not helpful to the process," Kotcon said.