County Commissioners offer input on EPA’s clean water rules

The following letter was sent recently to the EPA by the Somerset County Commissioners.

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The purpose of this letter is to comment on the new proposed rule — Definition of “Waters of the United States” Under the Clean Water Act — recently published by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).

While there is no doubt that the nation’s wetlands are an extremely valuable resource requiring protection, we believe that the proposed definition of “Waters of the United States” will have the effect of unreasonably and unnecessarily broadening the scope of the waters subject to federal regulation under the Clean Water Act (CWA), the net effect of which will be to increase costs to local governments at a time when those governments can least afford it.

Our major concern is that the proposed definition broadens the definition to include man-made or man-altered ditches, such as roadside ditches, Public Drainage Association ditches, and potentially others, thus making them subject to federal regulation tinder Section 404 of the CWA.

Somerset County, like local governments across the nation, is responsible for maintaining roadside drainage ditches along over 350 miles of County roads that we maintain. In addition, there are over 42 miles of Public Drainage Association ditches within the County. I believe that under the proposed definition, large swaths of those ditches and similar conveyances will now be considered “Waters of the United States” and require us to obtain federal permits before doing routine maintenance, upgrades, mitigation, or improvements. Obtaining such permits can be time consuming and costly.

The proposed rule impacts may extend beyond these government facilities and may result in additional costs and burdens to businesses, farmers and property owners. The proposed regulations may also impact implementation of projects mandated through Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) requirements by restricting areas suitable for retrofit and restoration resulting in additional expenditures and/or the imposition of additional water quality standards.

The definition should be revised to explicitly state that roadside and other man-made ditches are excluded from the definition of “Waters of the United States.” As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to contact Thomas J. Lawton, Senior County Planner.

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