News Release Distributed 07/11/14CROWLEY, La. – Farmers voiced concerns about a proposed revision to the Clean Water Act in a meeting on July 9 with representatives of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
More than 130 people turned out for the session with some traveling from north Louisiana and Texas.
Eugene Thilstead, EPA agriculture advisor, said the revisions will not broaden the Clean Water Act’s scope, and the regulations will not increase to include ditches. He said the changes will not affect the 56 accepted farm practices that don’t require federal permits now.
Ron Curry, director of EPA Region 6, told the gathering that recent court cases have led to a need to clarify the definition of U.S. waters. He said the viewpoint of farmers will be included in the final revisions. “It’s your points of view that we need to drive this rule,” he said.
The EPA is encouraging farmers to submit written comments on the proposal before the Oct. 20 deadline. Instructions for making comments can be found online at http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/guidance/wetlands/CWAwaters.cfm#comment.
Curry explained that recent court decisions “have muddied the water” and resulted in an effort to clarify the Clean Water Act’s definitions of what is included in U.S. waters.
Bill Honker, EPA regional director of water quality, said five opinions by justices of the U.S. Supreme Court recommended that the EPA clarify the rules.
Before the hearing, the EPA group visited Christian and Julie Richard’s rice and soybean farm in Vermilion Parish on a tour organized by the LSU AgCenter and the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry. Christian Richard showed them several improvements he has made to conserve water, including an underground irrigation pipeline to distribute water on different fields and a tailwater recovery canal to hold water.
Richard said rice fields are the ideal buffers to filter sediment from draining water. “When water comes off the rice fields, it’s as clear as drinking water,” he said.
Curry said the practices he saw at the Richard farm are examples of good environmental stewardship. “We saw practices of environmental protection that need to be modeled across our country,” he said.
At the hearing, John Owen, who farms rice, cotton, corn and soybeans and has a duck-hunting operation on his land, told the EPA that environmental stewardship is essential for a long-term agricultural operation.
“This is a room filled with active environmentalists,” Owen said. “Every decision we make on the farm is based on profitability and taking care of the land and water. We don’t need a lot of regulations.”
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But farmers expressed concerns that practices can change, and that the rule revisions could later restrict what they can do on their land, depending on the interpretation.
Dane Hebert, a rice farmer from Vermilion Parish, said he fears the new definitions have the potential to broaden the Clean Water Act to include all streams, tributaries and any channels that convey water. Hebert said that could severely restrict irrigation.
Jack Dailey, a sixth-generation cotton farmer in northeast Louisiana, said the Clean Water Act needs to take into account what may be done in the future. “We change our practices every day to improve our farm,” he said.
Mike Strain, Louisiana commissioner of agriculture and forestry, said that EPA’s eagerness to get producer comments is a positive sign. “Even though we may disagree with certain provisions of the proposed rule, we appreciate the EPA's willingness to hear our concerns and hope that this visit will highlight all of the environmental stewardship efforts underway in Louisiana,” he said.
Bill Richardson, LSU vice president for agriculture, said the LSU AgCenter has recognized the importance of water resources by hiring a new staff of water quality experts based at the Red River Research Station near Bossier City.
Rice farmer Jeff Durand, of St. Martin Parish, said farmers already take high risks, and regulations only add to the complexity of growing a crop. “We would like to work with you guys to identify the practices you are exempting,” he said.
Earl Garber, president of the National Association of Conservation Districts, told the EPA group that a voluntary-based program is the best way to achieve environmental goals.
Carrie Castille, LDAF associate commissioner, said efforts will continue to provide more opportunities to provide input to the EPA on the proposal. She said she will be working with the LSU AgCenter to schedule more listening sessions across the state.
Curry assured farmers at the hearing that what they said will be considered. “We will keep working on this,” he said, adding that their input was invaluable in the draft process.
“It is important for us to hear from producers on this proposed water rule,” he said. “It is our job to listen and we learned a lot about unique conditions facing farmers in South Louisiana at our meeting with Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain and Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Peggy Hatch.”
He said based on comments and interest from producers, another meeting will be held in north Louisiana. “Our shared goal is to protect the environment and preserve our farms."Bruce Schultz
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