Waterways of the US

President Trump has recently made changes to the Waterways of the US policy. This allows for clearer definitions while still protecting our navigable waterways. The local paper included a few of my quotes on the subject. Read the Daily Interlake article here:

MONTANA FARMERS, CONSERVATIONISTS DIFFER ON NEW WATERWAY RULE

February 23, 2020 at 5:00 am | By KIANNA GARDNER Daily Inter Lake

In late January, the United States Environmental Protection Agency announced a sizable rollback on already-repealed Obama-era waterway protections with the introduction of President Trump’s Navigable Waters Protection Rule. The move has spurred a great deal of controversy in Montana and other states primarily between farmers and ranchers who applaud the change and conservation researchers and advocates who say it will have monumental impacts on the state’s natural resources.

The rule — slated to go into effect in the coming weeks — would rollback and replace the Waters of the United States Rule created by President Obama in 2015 under the Clean Water Act after the administration chose to expand federal protections for certain water bodies in order to protect larger water bodies from pollution. These included protections for ephemeral streams and certain wetlands that only connect to larger bodies seasonally after snowmelt and precipitation events.

A 2016 study by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality showed there are 307,000 miles of “small, intermittent or ephemeral streams” in the state, which account for most of Montana’s stream miles. According to Moira Davin, a public relations specialist with the department, the agency is currently working on an analysis of which streams and wetlands will no longer be considered jurisdictional under Trump’s new rule.

Davin said the state’s research thus far shows an estimated one-third of wetlands in Flathead and Gallatin counties, where large quantities of wetlands dot the landscapes, would lose protection. This statistic, Davin said, applies to most of the state.

“Many [of the wetlands] are not isolated, but are in floodplains where they help lessen flood damage, store water, provide habitat and clean up water that eventually flows downstream. Wetlands provide benefits to our communities and the environment,” Davin said in an email.

Guy Alsentzer, executive director of Upper Missouri Waterkeeper headquartered in Bozeman, described much of Montana, the Flathead Valley included, as having a topography made up of interconnected headwaters “like veins in your hand.

“Think about Flathead Lake. The lake is huge, and we all know there are many different water bodies that feed into that lake through multiple means,” Alsenzter said. “The Flathead River itself has many connecting points, including innumerable headwater creeks and streams that only flow for part of the year because of snowmelt or a rain event. Those are all now possible subjects for pollution.”

Alsentzer and others say the rule change fails to recognize scientific facts and it’s Montanans who will pay for the aftermath of such pollution.

“When we see the EPA rolling back science-based standards that protect our drinking water, it’s a huge red flag to us,” Alsentzer said. “This will expedite pollution and Montana residents who enjoy these pristine resources that make our state so special will foot the bill.”

Alsentzer’s nonprofit organization, which defends fishable, swimmable and drinkable water, is one of more than a dozen organizations that recently came together to file a formal notice of intent to sue the Trump administration over the Navigable Waters Protection Rule. A press release announcing the lawsuit, states that eliminating protections may impact approximately half of all wetlands and potentially millions of miles of streams and “allows polluters to pace over wetlands and dump pesticides,” among other acts.

ALTHOUGH THE rule has upset and prompted action from many in the environmental and conservation realm, those in the ranching and farming industry say it’s cause for celebration.

Leaders of multiple agricultural groups have been vocal in their support, saying the change will provide clarity for landowners and eliminate language they maintain was unclear.

In one press release, the Montana Stockgrowers Association said it has long-supported the repeal of Obama’s 2015 rule. The association highlighted certain aspects of Trump’s new rule as being positive changes for the industry, including the removal of ephemeral streams from federal control and regulatory exclusions for common agricultural features such as stock ponds and irrigation ditches. The association also noted the definition still protects other categories of waters, including perennial and intermittent tributaries, certain lakes and ponds and wetlands adjacent to jurisdictional waters.

“The Navigable Waters Protection Rule gives states and tribes more flexibility in determining how best to manage their land and water resources while protecting the nation’s navigable waters as intended by Congress when it enacted the Clean Water Act,” the press release states.

Local farmers in the Flathead Valley have also praised Trump’s rule.

Bruce Tutvedt, a longtime Flathead Valley resident who owns and operates a large irrigated wheat and canola farm, described the Obama administration as a “great overreach of federal power.”

“The federal law said navigable streams, but they (Obama administration) manipulated the verbage to basically mean mud puddles and tiny creeks,” Tutvedt said.

Another Kalispell rancher noted the 2015 definition set nearly impossible standards and that “even a ditch with some standing water couldn’t be touched.”

And another longtime farmer pointed to problems with the perception that farmers can’t also be environmentalists, saying they, too, set high standards for themselves when it comes to protecting natural resources and that the message “misrepresents the industry.”

“This new rule is a great thing; we are all ecstatic about it,” Tutvedt said. “Under the old regulations that have since been repealed, basically anytime my backhoe would have touched water, I would have had to have a permit for that.”

Reporter Kianna Gardner can be reached at 758-4407 or kgardner@dailyinterlake.com