Opinion: Protecting water while eliminating regulatory overreach

Julie Alexander

Farmers are the best natural stewards of the land because their survival depends on it.

Michigan’s agriculture community can finally close the door to its past decade of uncertainty — wondering whether the mud puddles and ditches on their properties require the federal government’s regulation. 

The Navigable Waters Protection Rule gives states more elasticity in determining how to best manage their land and natural resources, writes Alexander.

As House Agriculture Committee chair, I am pleased with the new Navigable Waters Protection Rule. It’s the common-sense solution our farmers have been longing for and will offer a realistic balance between federal regulation and private property rights. 

Under an old federal rule, farmers were occasionally unable to work their land because of draconian Environmental Protection Agency regulations on routine farming decisions, like whether to drain wet areas on their property. 

Jay Williams stands in one of his fields that is  too wet to plant corn. An old federal rule prevented farmers from draining wet areas on their property, Alexander writes.

The former federal water regulations Waters of the United States were not only overreaching but caused uncertainty for our nation’s farmers. In our state, where agriculture is so vital to our state’s economy, those unclear guidelines were adding another layer of difficulty to an already challenged industry. 

I commend President Donald Trump for protecting the property rights of farmers in a deliberative way, and for keeping his promise to the agriculture community and landowners. This was a monumental common-sense change for all farmers. Trump even referred to the former rule as “one of the most ridiculous regulations of all.” 

Michigan farmers have always been excellent caretakers of the land, water and natural resources around them. We are one of the first in the nation to establish a volunteer program — the Michigan Agricultural Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP) — that promotes and documents techniques to reduce erosion and runoff from private land into private waters. MAEAP helps farmers take proactive steps toward assessing their farm operations for potential environmental risks. 

Although MAEAP has become a national model, other states haven’t been as successful with a program of this type because they fail to have the industrywide partners like commodity groups — such as Michigan State University Extension, Michigan Farm Bureau — and government agencies all on board.

As for the U.S. Clean Water Act, the federal government will still have regulation over territorial seas, traditional controllable waters, constant and erratic bodies of water, certain lakes, ponds and impoundments and wetlands adjacent to jurisdictional waters.

The Navigable Waters Protection Rule gives states more elasticity in determining how to best manage their land and natural resources — including groundwater, most ditches, prior converted cropland, farm and stock watering ponds, waste treatment systems, and landscapes that contain only water from rain.

This new water rule eliminates overreaching regulation while protecting our resources. No longer will Michigan farmers question where jurisdiction begins and end. The former regulations lacked common sense and disrupted our farmers.

Farmers are dedicated to protecting the land, water, and environment. This includes sound farming practices such as soil health, cover crops, reducing tillage and carefully managing cropping applications. 

President Trump’s promise is no doubt the right call for Michigan, and as a conservationist of our natural resources, I am excited about this new water rule. 

Rep. Julie Alexander, R-Jackson, serves Michigan’s 64th District.