Proposed new EPA rules that aim to regulate what is called navigable waterways have the Farm Bureau, water authority and a local advocacy group concerned.
The proposed rule may expand the EPAs jurisdiction under the 1972 Clean Water Act that addresses water pollution.
Theres a lot in the proposed rule that the environmental community does not like -- the regulations are not protective enough -- and theres a lot in the rule that the regulated community doesnt like -- that the new regulations go too far, Joe Cook, advocacy coordinator for the Coosa River Basin Initiative, said. That should tell you something.
The EPA says the new rule is needed to clarify which bodies of water it oversees under the Clean Water Act.
The American Farm Bureau earlier this year launched an awareness campaign called Ditch the Rule, designed to help its members across the country, and in Dawson County, understand how they may be affected.
In Dawson County, there are 182 farms totaling 12,709 acres, according to Clark McAllister with the county extension office.
I believe Dawson County has 136,960 total acres, he said, so that would be about 9.3 percent (of the total land in the county).
The Environmental Protection Agency, in turn, launched a campaign called Ditch the Myth.
A review of the EPAs website states: Exclusions and exemptions for agriculture will not change; normal farming activities like planting crops and moving cattle do not require permits; regulations of ditches is actually decreased; current exemptions for farm ponds stay in place; floodplains are not regulated, and puddles are not regulated.
The Farm Bureau, on the other hand, says the proposed rule is an effort by the EPA and the Corp of Engineers to go around the will of Congress and ignore Supreme Court decisions that have limited their authority.
The bureau has successfully blocked legislation that would remove the word navigable from the Clean Water Act, according to the bureaus website. This rule will undo that success ... with no accountability to the citizens they intend to regulate. Farm Bureau opposes this rule and urges that it be withdrawn.
Brooke Anderson, general manager at Etowah Water and Sewer Authority, said the rule will negatively affect development in Dawson County, and he cited the countys new power center as an example.
The Sembler property was a forerunner of the Blanchard development, and both had to do an environmental assessment, Anderson said. If it has to be redone again, if the new rule passes, one of two things is going to happen -- both things cost us money -- either A) things are not going to be developed the way they are intended or B) they will develop at a higher cost which is passed along, ultimately, to the consumer.
Congressman Doug Collins, who represents Georgias 9th district, which includes Dawson County, doesnt like the rule.
The bottom line is youre taking away jobs, he said. If developers cant build shopping centers or subdivisions because it becomes cost-prohibitive, youre taking away jobs from areas that could have had them.
Collins also called the proposed rule a land grab by the EPA.
Cook said people need to educate themselves and decide if the EPA rule protects our water and our property rights.
What happens to our rivers, streams, and lakes impacts all of us, he said. Those of us who are fortunate to have water on or flowing through our property have a responsibility to everyone downstream.
If a landowner upstream damages or pollutes the water, then those actions infringe on downstream property owners rights to the use and enjoyment of that stream. Thats why its important to have regulations in place.
Jon Huffmaster is the legislative director for the Georgia Farm Bureau.
On my property we have a pond we built for livestock, he said. And on it there is a seasonal stream. Water comes in from above and flows out below. That is a tributary. Is that subject to regulations? I cant tell you. But I can tell you we dont approve of federal authority over such a small area.
The EPA is accepting comments on this proposed rule throughOct. 20.Initially the agency planned to close its comment period July 21, but has extended its deadline. To post a comment: www2.epa.gov/uswaters.
For further reading, ditchtherule.fb.org, and water.epa.gov/lawsregs/guidance/wetlands/CWAwaters.cfm.