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NMPF Asks EPA to Withdraw Guidance that Could Hinder Water Conservation on Farms

August 7, 2014

NMPF has asked the Environmental Protection Agency to withdraw recent guidance concerning when farmers must seek Clean Water Act permits for a long list of normal farming activities near wetlands. In comments submitted July 7, NMPF said the EPA’s guidance could actually discourage water conservation by changing the long-standing relationship between farmers and the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Officially called an Interpretive Rule, the EPA guidance was issued in March. It says producers are only exempt from needing Clean Water Act permits for more than 50 routine farming practices if they comply with detailed NRCS technical conservation standards. Until now, these standards have been voluntary, and the farming practices exempt from the permit process.

NMPF said the guidance changes NRCS’s role from that of a conservation partner with farmers, to an enforcer of the Clean Water Act on EPA’s behalf. “Until now, NRCS has been the place producers could go for conservation advice, while EPA was charged with ensuring compliance with the Clean Water Act,” said Jamie Jonker, NMPF’s Vice President for Sustainability & Scientific Affairs. “The cooperative relationship with NRCS made it more likely farmers would adopt water conservation practices.

“Unfortunately,” Jonker said, “the interpretive rule moves NRCS into an enforcement role and, in the process, could set back conservation efforts.”