The Environmental Protection Agency and The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers seek control over a much broader area of the landscape than they have now under the Clean Water Act passed by Congress some 40 years ago.
Congress left exactly what waters could be under jurisdiction of these agencies vague in the legislation that became law. EPA is trying to redefine certain types of areas so they would fall under their jurisdiction. Some of them may be on your farm, and might be areas you would never think would come under federal control.
Could you ever need a permit to fix a gully? It may seem far-fetched, but Justin Schneider, an Indiana Farm Bureau attorney who specializes in dealing with issue related to water, says it all depends on interpretation. While EPA denies it, he's not convinced that even something as simple as a gully in a field would be exempt from federal jurisdiction.
If your reaction is, 'I'm not worried because this is so complex that no one could ever enforce it," Schneider says you're living dangerously. True, EPA may not have the manpower to go looking for such violations, but they may not have to, he says.
"What we fear is that if the feds are granted jurisdiction over a larger amount and type of areas, some of which occur on many farms, then if you commit what you think is a natural farming practice but the laws says is a violation, it may be your neighbor or an environmental group that turns you in," Schneider says. "Once EPA is contacted then they will investigate. If you're in violation there will be consequences."
Related: Fight The EPA's Claims To Your Land (commentary)
The least of which may be getting what's known as an NPDES permit. It's time, money and hassle spent on something that Schneider and IFB say has no business being regulated in the first place.
If history is any indication, neighbors and people who support environmental causes living in rural areas won't hesitate to report what they believe to be violations.