The U. S. Environmental Protection Agency convened a Scientific Advisory Board Dec. 16 to review the Water Body Connectivity Report draft released by the agency in September. The panel, which includes a broad variety of independent scientific experts, is assessing the scientific validity of that report, upon which the agency will base their rule defining U.S waters.

This rule seeks to expand EPA’s regulatory authority under the Clean Water Act. The review has thus far proceeded in a constructive yet inquisitive manner that the National Corn Growers Association hopes will lead to findings that positively impact the final rule.

“While the debate going on in Washington may seem academic and ephemeral, t will have real-world implications for farmers in their fields,” isaid NCGA Production and Stewardship Action Team Chair Don Glenn, who farms in Alabama. “Farmers take their responsibility to care for natural resources very seriously, and we depend upon clean water to maintain thriving operations. At the same time, we urge all involved to consider the vital question of how large a body of water has to be to have a significant impact. To be effective, rules need to be both practical and have a basis in credible science. Our goal is to find effective, practical solutions that will lead to a bright future for our land, air and water.”

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Prior to this panel, NCGA submitted comments to the EPA outlining the positive and potentially flawed portions of the draft report. In those comments, the association urged the Scientific Advisory Board to consider a handful of crucial concerns.

The NCGA comments to the panel: “While the considerable amount of science makes a contribution to our understanding of the need to work in the entire watershed to achieve water quality goals, there is a marked lack of science that allows the report to guide decisions as to what is or is not a water of the United States. The connectivity report does not address the problem of when and where and how there might be a significant nexus between remote drainage features or isolated waters like wetlands and the downstream navigable waters or their tributaries. 

“The report does not make critical distinctions between drainage features and streams or other waterways, and as a result implies that essentially every drainage feature in agricultural areas could merit designation as a water of the United States, which carries with it a host of mandatory measures under the CWA. 

“We encourage the SAB to consider carefully the legal and policy context of the physical challenges of identifying waters of the United States and then offer to EPA recommendations about the appropriate scientific context and the questions to be asked to properly address those challenges.”

NCGA, as a member of the Waterways Advisory Council, submitted a letter to the board last week encouraging the panel to go beyond the narrow questions posed by the EPA. Specifically, the letter urged the board “to go further to address whether the report and underlying scientific studies it reviews provide a real scientific basis for determining to what extent such connections may or may not significantly effect downsteam waters.”