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Corn Growers ask for extension on Waters of the U.S.; EPA has spill

Corn Growers ask for extension on Waters of the U.S.; EPA has spill
As Waters of the U.S. gets closer to implementation, EPA has water pollution issue to address

The National Corn Growers Association said Wednesday that more time is needed to review key information related to the Waters of the U.S. rule released in internal memos earlier this summer before the regulation becomes final Aug. 28.

Related: Ag groups file suit on Waters of the U.S. rule

"In July, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy came to our meeting in Washington and made certain assurances that no new risks are created by the rule," NCGA President Chip Bowling said. "We have since become convinced that these assurances are based on an inaccurate reading of the rule, the preamble, and the recent applicable field record of her agency's own actions on these issues."

Cement Creek, which was flooded with millions of gallons of mining wastewater, is viewed on August 11, 2015 in Silverton, Colorado. The Environmental Protection Agency accidentally released approximately three million gallons of wastewater into the creek from the Gold King mine, polluting the larger Animas River downstream. (Photo by Theo Stroomer/Getty Images)

The Army Corps of Engineers, which had been partnering with EPA in the process, expressed reservations on the science and legality of the rule, NCGA says, creating more concern for the group about certain provisions in WOTUS.

"Corps data to EPA has been selectively applied out of context, and mixes terminology and disparate data sets," NCGA quotes a May 15, 2015, internal memo. "In the Corps judgement, these documents contain numerous inappropriate assumptions with no connection to the data provided, misapplied data, analytical deficiencies and logical inconsistencies."

NCGA also quotes an April 27, 2015, memo: "The rule's contradictions with legal principles generate multiple legal and technical consequences that in the view of the Corps would be fatal to the rule in its current form."

In a letter sent to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy this week requesting an extension of the effective date of the rule, NCGA noted that the agency's field staff didn't have a clear or consistent understanding of how to implement the rule.

Related: Army Corps uncertain of Waters of U.S. rule merit, memos show

"Our concerns are exacerbated by the fact that the Agencies' field staff have yet to develop a shared understanding of the rule and how it will be implemented," the NCGA letter states. "Furthermore, the Agencies' leadership and field staff have yet to develop with farmers a similar understanding of their responsibilities under the Clean Water Act in light of this rule."

EPA's own water troubles
The request comes shortly after EPA investigators at a mine in Colorado on Aug. 5 spilled three million gallons of contaminated mine wastewater into Cement Creek, a tributary of the Animas River.

"This is a tragic and unfortunate incident, and EPA is taking responsibility to ensure that it is cleaned up," McCarthy told reporters on Tuesday. "EPA has taken steps to capture and treat the discharge at the Gold King mine, addressing the risk of additional downstream impacts."

McCarthy clarified Wednesday that the agency is ceasing field investigations and will organize an independent assessment "by a sister federal agency or another external entity" to examine the factors that led to the mine incident.

Meanwhile, the issue has created problems of its own for both EPA and Navajo settlements in the area. According to an Associated Press report, area farmers and ranchers are waiting to hear if they can begin to irrigate crops again.

"Just two weeks without water could wipe out their corn and alfalfa just before harvest, which represents an entire year's salary for some farming families," The AP report notes. "Long-term, they also worry that they'll lose the ability to market their meat and produce as free-range and organic."

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