waters of the united states
Workers tinker with agricultural machinery. (Will Blessing / Gaylord News)

A U.S. federal court has dismissed a lawsuit seeking to block an effort by the Biden administration to revise how the country’s navigable waters are to be regulated.

At President Joe Biden’s direction, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is aiming to reverse the Donald Trump administration’s 2020 Navigable Waters Protection Rule and restore more stringent language that was in place from the implementation of the 2015 Waters of the United States regulations.

Gaylord NewsThis story was reported by Gaylord News, a Washington reporting project of the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Oklahoma.

For Oklahoma farmers, this new rule could create more problems than solutions when it comes to which water sources are considered under federal regulation. 

“The biggest definition with farming is how the water stands on a piece of land, and whether it then becomes protected wetlands,” said Rodd Moesel, president of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau. “Under the WOTUS (rule) that the Obama administration had done (…) the land could be federally regulated just because water stood on the ground too long instead of immediately draining, and that’s just not realistic. In the real farming and ranching world, water is going to stand after major rain events but not the other 90, 98, or even 99 percent of the time.”

Farmers and ranchers were finally getting used to the Trump administration’s rule when the EPA’s announcement was made, leaving them unsure of how this will once again change the ways they run their farms. 

“The Biden administration wanting to rewrite the rule alarms us because we just got one written that we think satisfies the law and keeps water clean, and it’s barely had time to go into effect,” said Matt Muller, an Oklahoma farmer. “We have barely been able to start operating under that, but we had been comfortable with what we were going to have to deal with.”

In Oklahoma, the Department of Environmental Quality and the Water Resources Board are already heavily involved in the water regulation of the state, making many view Trump’s Navigable Waters Protection Rule as more reasonable because farmers had more control over their land without the need for federal oversight. 

“It causes us a lot of concern and worry that we don’t know what the new rule is, and it’s hard to know when making business decisions about what kind of crop to grow or what changes to make on your land,” Moesel said. “I really don’t think federal action is needed in this area much at all because the states have had very aggressive and very active regulation of water for decades.”

The American Farm Bureau Federation was also not pleased with the possibility of a reversal of the WOTUS rule, as they say farmers will be suffering the consequences. 

“[EPA Administrator Micheal Regan] recently recognized the flaws in the 2015 Waters of the U.S. Rule and pledged not to return to those overreaching regulations,” said AFBF President Vincent “Zippy” Duvall. “We are deeply concerned that the EPA plans to reverse the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, which puts the future of responsible protections at risk.”

Both U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and Congressman Frank Lucas put out statements arguing once again that the Obama-era WOTUS rule over regulated. The pair urged the Biden administration to understand that farmers and ranchers are on their side in the fight for water protection.

“Farmers, ranchers and landowners of Oklahoma have long been good stewards of their land and the environment,” said Lucas (R-OK3). “(The) Navigable Waters Protection Rule provided long-overdue certainty and clarity for landowners. The Biden Administration’s intent to reverse the Navigable Waters Protection Rule hurts those who call rural America home and once again places stringent burdens on America’s farmers, ranchers, businesses, and rural communities.”

Duvall agreed.

“Clean water and clarity are paramount,” Duvall said. “And that is why farmers shouldn’t need a team of lawyers and consultants to farm.”