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Mining - Federal Mining Policy and the West Why mining is important When done right, mining can represent a valuable economic resource for local communities. However, mining corporations are still operating under an outdated mining policy (the 1872 Mining Act) that makes sustainability and guaranteed protections against impacts to local water and natural resources anything but a guarantee.  For example, the Environmental Protection Agency has named mining the country’s top toxic polluter for nine straight years now.  According to the report, mining has contaminated 40 percent of the headwaters of western watersheds.
Wilderness In 1964 Congress passed the Wilderness Act to protect a small segment of our most unique and cherished public lands in their original character. Currently about 2% of public lands in the lower 48 are classified as wilderness. These areas are free of road building, dams, permanent structures, logging, motorized vehicles, new mining claims and mineral leasing. Hunting, fishing and grazing is permitted in wilderness.

New Clean Water Act Ruling and Agriculture ("Waters of the US")

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New Clean Water Act Ruling and Agriculture ("Waters of the US")
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New Clean Water Act Ruling ("Waters of the U.S.")

The Environmental Protection Agency recently issued a clarification of the Clean Water Act, following years of confusion around what bodies of water should and should not be protected.

The new ruling targets the third of US water resources currently too toxic for swimming, fishing or drinking, and is based on an exhaustive study on the relevance of tributary and ephemeral bodies of water to the health and safety of overall water resources in the US. Everyone agrees that national, state and local water policy can be extremely complex, especially when they overlap. The clarifications by the EPA could go a long way to simplifying and making more relevant American water policy for agricultural producers and businesses while also making our water cleaner and safer. Here's a video of ranchers and farmers in Colorado, sponsored by Land Stewards and Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, a fact sheet by National Farmers Union and an ad in Colorado newspapers.

What are Colorado ranchers and farmers are saying about the new rule?

"The Clean Water Act has been critical to protecting our water resources in western Colorado. The new rule will provide much-needed clarifications for industry and agriculture while also addressing the very real and important clean water challenges we face as farmers and small business owners," Jeff Schwartz, farmer and business owner, Delicious Orchards and Big B's, Hotchkiss, Colorado.

"Our farm and our community rely on clean, safe drinking water, as well as balanced water policy. We believe the Environmental Protection Agency's new clean water rule ruling represents a thoughtful, common-sense approach to maintaining downstream water resources for the long term," Yvon Gros & Joanna Reckert, Leroux Creek Vineyards, Paonia, Colorado.

"I can't think of any other issue that's as apolitical as clean water. It's something we all count on. On our farm, we certainly don't take water resources for granted. We appreciate the efforts by Secretary Vilsack and Administrator McCarthy toward protecting not just our drinking water but the water and health of our lakes, streams and rivers," Devin Eames, second-generation farmer and winegrower, Afred Eames Cellars, Paonia, Colorado.

"From my ranch you can actually see the importance of the new clean water ruling … to farmers, sportsmen and rural communities. Standing headwaters of the Troublesome Creek on my ranch you can clearly see how what happens upstream affects my neighbors and community downstream. The new ruling is not just balanced water policy, but just plain common sense," Rich Kaup, fifth-generation rancher and farmer, Troublesome Creek Farms, Golden, Colorado.

"The new clean water rule will result in cleaner water in Colorado and the West. Like so many others I've spoken with over the years, I saw no rationale for how limiting the [Clean Water] Act to just 'navigable' waters served our interests … for agriculture, local communities or the countless Americans who use enjoy our streams, rivers and bodies of water," Bill Eikenberry, third-generation rancher, Lakewood, Colorado.

"I believe the politically-imposed limitations on the Clean Water Act have severely hampered its effectiveness over the years. Ranchers and farmers like myself will see tangible benefits from the new clean water rule if it is implemented," John Kretsinger, rancher and farmer, KW Farms, Alamosa, Colorado.

"On behalf of the water and shared natural resources that we all rely on, I believe the EPA and USDA should move forward with the clean water ruling as soon as possible. I hope our elected representatives in Colorado are also working to ensure this outcome," Joe Livingston, Big Beaver Ranch, Meeker, Colorado.


The public comment period on the new ruling has been extended until October 20, 2014.

For the complete clean water ruling, go to the Federal Register. Analyses can also be found at EPA and American Rivers. Meanwhile, here's some relevant background on the new rulign and the Clean Water Act:

Water Legacy. Forty years ago, two-thirds of America’s lakes, rivers and coastal waters were unsafe for fishing and swimming. When American rivers began spontaneously catching fire Congress took action, crafting the Clean Water Act in 1972 to address the growing threat and danger. Since that time, that number has been cut in half. However, one-third of the nation’s waters still do not meet basic safety standards.

Prior to 2001: Virtually all streams, wetlands, lakes and other natural water bodies were covered under the Clean Water Act in accordance with congressional intent and the long-standing Corps and EPA definitions of “waters of the United States.” The important physical, chemical and biological connections between upstream wetlands and tributaries and downstream navigable waters were accepted and presumed to exist. The Supreme Court unanimously rejected industry arguments that wetlands were not “waters of the United States,” deferring to the experts at EPA and the Corps to identify water resources the law must protect to serve the law’s clean water goals.

Since 2001: Later Supreme Court decisions, along with subsequent agency guidance issued in 2003 and 2008, called into question the status of upstream tributaries and wetlands and, as a result, have jeopardized critical water resources and fish and wildlife habitat. Taken together, they have:

  • Removed protections for at least 20 million acres of wetlands, including prairie potholes and other seasonal wetlands that provide important flood protection and essential wildlife habitat nationwide.
  • Put at risk 59% of all stream miles in the continental United States. Many of these streams provide critical habitat for countless fish, especially trout.
  • Threaten drinking water supplies. Headwater and intermittently-flowing streams feed into the public drinking water systems of more than 117 million Americans.
  • Put at risk a multi-billion dollar economy founded on clean water: Anglers alone generated nearly $115 billion in economic activity in 2011, breathing life into rural communities and supporting more than one million jobs.

Clean Water Future. The proposed rule will clarify protections for about two million miles of streams and 20 million acres of wetlands and other waters based on the copious science showing that these types of waters have a significant physical, chemical, or biological connection to traditionally navigable or interstate waters. The proposed rule preserves the existing Clean Water Act exemptions for farming, forestry, mining and certain other land use activities. When finalized, this “waters of the United States” rule will bolster the Clean Water Act’s legal and scientific foundation, provide greater long-term certainty for landowners, and protect the streams, wetlands and other waters that feed our Nation’s rivers, lakes and bays.

Additionally, about 60 percent of stream miles in the U.S. only flow seasonally or after rain, but have a considerable impact on the downstream waters. And approximately 117 million people – one in three Americans – get drinking water from public systems that rely in part on these streams. These are important waterways for which EPA and the Army Corps is clarifying protection.

What does the new ruling mean for agriculture?

The new ruling codifies existing exemptions for agricultural producers engaged in producing America's food, fuel and fiber. Rocky Mountain Farmers Union called this new ruling important because it “clarifies existing confusion around what activities required permitting based on confusing “navigable waters” definition.


  • Agricultural stormwater discharges.
  • Return flows from irrigated agriculture.
  • Normal farming, silvicultural, and ranching activities.
  • Upland soil and water conservation practices.
  • Construction and maintenance of farm or stock ponds or irrigation ditches.
  • Maintenance of drainage ditches.
  • Construction or maintenance of farm, forest, and temporary mining roads.

Exclusions from Clean Water Act jurisdiction continue for:

  • Prior Converted Cropland, including the role of USDA.
  • Waste Treatment Systems.

Includes exclusions from Clean Water Act jurisdiction for:

  • Non-tidal drainage, including tiles, and irrigation ditches excavated on dry land.
  • Artificially irrigated areas that would be dry if irrigation stops.
  • Artificial lakes or ponds used for purposes such as stock watering or irrigation.
  • Areas artificially flooded for rice growing.
  • Artificial ornamental waters created for primarily aesthetic reasons.
  • Water-filled depressions created as a result of construction activity.
  • Pits excavated in uplands for fill, sand, or gravel that fill with water.

Rocky Mt. Farmers Union ad on politics of clean water rule