BELTON — A rule recently proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency expanding the definition of “bodies of water” was unanimously opposed in a resolution passed by the Bell County Commissioners Court on Monday morning.
In March, the EPA proposed a rule that attempts to clarify which bodies of water are protected by the Clean Water Act. The EPA believes the act already applies to the small streams, tributaries and wetlands throughout the U.S., which account for 60 percent of the nation’s stream miles.
“If this goes through, we’d have to file federal paperwork before we could go out and maintain a drainage ditch,” said Bill Schuman, Bell County Precinct 3 commissioner. “It doesn’t matter if there’s water in it or not; once it’s declared a ‘waterway,’ it’s covered in red tape.”
“Some may think that this rule will broaden the reach of EPA regulations —- but that’s simply not the case,” EPA administrator Gina McCarthy wrote in a March opinion piece. “Our proposed rule will not add to or expand the scope of waters historically protected under the Clean Water Act.”
The proposed rule clarifies the majority of seasonal and rain-dependent streams, as well as wetlands near river and streams, are protected under the Clean Water Act.
Not everyone agrees with this interpretation of the Clean Water Act.
“This is an overstepping of the EPA’s authority,” said Richard Cortese, Bell County Precinct 2 commissioner. “The EPA is trying to change the definition of ‘waterways of the U.S.’ despite statements from Congress and the Senate telling them not to go this way.”
The Clean Water Act has traditionally been viewed as only applying to navigable waterways, such as lakes and rivers, Cortese said. The inclusion of nonnavigable bodies of water such as streams and ponds, has proved controversial.
The proposed rule clarification has drawn opposition from county governments throughout the Central Texas region. Earlier this year, Hamilton County passed a resolution opposing the EPA’s interpretation of the Clean Water Act.
Much of the opposition comes from the belief that defining small, seasonal bodies of water as “waterways” would place an undue regulatory burden on local government.