CONTRIBUTORS

How the EPA’s Clean Water Rule helps Maine and Maine farmers

Posted Dec. 22, 2015, at 2:34 p.m.

Farm families depend on clean water. In Maine, we are lucky to have this resource in abundance, but we cannot take it for granted. Maine farmers value clean water. That’s why we join the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association in supporting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water Rule.

EPA developed the Clean Water Rule because two Supreme Court cases, in 2001 and 2006, made protecting clean water much more complicated. Rather than providing clear guidance to EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers, which protect our nation’s streams and wetlands, these cases made it harder to determine what small streams and small wetlands the Clean Water Act protects.

Clean water starts in small streams and wetlands. Small streams flow into larger streams and lakes. Pollution that goes into small streams inevitably ends up in large waterbodies, which the Supreme Court recognizes the need to protect. We cannot protect the water quality of the large lakes and rivers that supply about half of Maine people with drinking water without also protecting the small streams that flow into them. Protecting small wetlands is also critical for clean water in large rivers and lakes. When it rains, wetlands fill up and filter pollutants out of runoff. If we fill in too many wetlands, even smaller ones, downstream water quality will suffer.

Existing rain policies have been reasonably effective in cleaning up pollution that comes from “point sources” — pipes pouring waste from factories and sewage treatment plants. Lacking, however, are ways to deal with contaminated runoff from roads and open land.

Organic farming is about growing food and raising livestock sustainably. We are organic farmers because we believe in farming in harmony with our environment. We choose not to use the persistent, synthetic pesticides and fertilizers that underpin global industrial agribusiness. We see many recent examples of how toxic chemicals get into our waters and move up the food chain, harming high-level predators ranging from humans to bald eagles. Likewise, unfiltered fertilizer runoff contributes to algae overgrowth in fresh and saltwater.

Organic farmers are doing their part to keep dangerous pollutants out of our water and food supply, but we cannot do this alone. If a discharger wants to discharge pollution into a stream, it should get a license. Pollution flows downhill, along with the water it enters, and it will affect everyone downstream from its source. The agencies that protect our clean water need the proper authority to ensure that pollution discharges are as safe as possible. The 2001 and 2006 Supreme Court cases made it more difficult for EPA to require licenses for discharges into smaller, more intermittent streams.

Similarly, when a developer fills a wetland, it can affect us all. It decreases habitat available to fish and wildlife, which are public resources, and can lower downstream water quality by reducing the filtering of pollutants from runoff. Again, our resource agencies need clear authority to be able to weigh the benefits and costs of developing in wetlands and limit damage as much as possible.

The new Clean Water Rule does not increase EPA’s jurisdiction over agriculture, either organic or conventional. The Clean Water Act is clear that normal agricultural activities are exempt from its jurisdiction. Farm families benefit from having clean water to drink, give to our livestock, and irrigate our crops. We also benefit from the filtering effect of small wetlands and from their ability to soak up runoff during large storms that might otherwise flood our fields and damage our crops. The Clean Water Rule will not make life harder for the young organic farmers who are helping to revitalize agriculture in Maine. It will help protect clean water for these farmers and all Mainers.

For these reasons, we thank Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins for their recent votes in the Senate to keep the Clean Water Rule intact. I urge them to continue to vote to support the rule in the future. We’re also thankful to King for facilitating a meeting between Maine farmers and the head of EPA to discuss the Clean Water Rule. Open dialogue is a key to progress.

Wayne and Jo Ann Myers are owners of Beau Chemin Preservation Farm in Waldoboro.

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