At the end of May, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers published the long-awaited final rule on “Definition of Waters in the U.S.” — “WOTUS” for short — as an amendment to the Clean Water Act. While the efforts of these agencies are appreciated, county governments are disappointed with the final result.
Minnesota counties are concerned that the new WOTUS rule increases the scope of the authority of the EPA and the Army Corps — adding costly regulations and excessive federal government overreach — and that it will greatly affect county governments in southern Minnesota and across the state.
Currently, local and county governments maintain public safety infrastructure around roads and bridges that keep rising water away from citizens and their property. Local governments use a variety of methods to do this, including flood control channels, roadside ditches and green infrastructure.
The final WOTUS rule would expand the current definition of what waters fall under federal jurisdiction. Counties and local governments would be directly affected, particularly through their legal responsibility to maintain those public safety ditches and infrastructure.
By increasing the number of county-owned ditches under federal jurisdiction, the proposed rule could significantly increase the need for new permits in order to clean vegetation or debris out of ditches. The process for receiving those permits is time-consuming and expensive, adding extensive cost and delay to transportation and other infrastructure projects.
The resulting rule is also poorly written, with vague guidance provided for various water bodies, such as whether drainage ditches are considered waters of the U.S. The lack of clarity in terminology is almost certain to result in litigation, adding additional costs and further delays for critical infrastructure projects.
This rule represents just one of many programs that would affect local governments, as well as farmers and other property owners, through unnecessary, complex, and costly regulations and requirements. Added costs for county governments would mean added costs for taxpayers. We are all concerned about clean water for our families and communities, but the additional costs should come with assurances of better environmental outcomes.
In a previous vote, Minnesota’s U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar supported counties and taxpayers when she voted in favor of Senate Amendment 347 during consideration of the Senate budget. We thank Sen. Klobuchar for standing with counties across Minnesota and now ask for her support again, along with that of Sen. Al Franken, to back the Federal Water Quality Protection Act and any other legislation that would prevent this rule from taking effect at the end of August.
The Association of Minnesota Counties feels strongly that the WOTUS rule should be rewritten to prevent inconsistent and overreaching regulations. We ask Klobuchar and Franken to help counties across Minnesota by restarting the rule-making process to provide the clarity needed at the ground level for counties to effectively implement this rule and protect our valuable water resources.
Chris Shoff is a Freeborn County commissioner and president of the Association of Minnesota Counties.