Updated: Water board nears vote on revised wetlands rules

Issue Date: March 27, 2019
By Christine Souza

In a matter of days, the State Water Resources Control Board is scheduled to consider adopting final amendments to the state's wetland policy—a policy that now includes additional exemptions for agricultural activities.

The water board has been working to create a state definition of wetlands and procedures to protect them from dredge-and-fill activities.

After spending more than a decade on the issue, the board released proposed final amendments in January regarding the State Wetland Definition and Procedures for Discharges of Dredged or Fill Material to Waters of the State.    

California Farm Bureau Federation Senior Counsel Kari Fisher said the procedures as originally proposed would have affected agriculture in numerous ways, by regulating discharges to wetland waters of the state that fall outside the protection of the federal Clean Water Act.

A revised version of the proposal, issued late last week, resolves many of those concerns, Fisher said.

"Fam Bureau has been working with water board staff and board members to clarify the intent of the procedures and their limited application to agriculture," she said. "We are cautiously optimistic the final version of the procedures will include proper exemptions for agriculture."

The water board will hold a public meeting April 2 to consider adoption of the state wetlands policy.

The board has said the proposed amendments aim to cover only those wetlands no longer protected under the Clean Water Act due to U.S. Supreme Court decisions, provide consistency among regional water boards and address current regulations that have not been adequate to prevent losses in the quality and quantity of wetlands in California.

But prior to the revised proposal, Fisher said, the procedures would have created conflict by proposing a new wetland definition that would have differed from the longstanding definition used by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The water board has stated previously that it does not intend to regulate normal farming, silviculture and ranching activities that are exempt under the Clean Water Act, and board members directed staff to continue working with stakeholders, including agriculture, to clarify confusion and potentially make necessary revisions. 

"We hope the final procedures will provide more clarity regarding how they will be applied to agricultural activities and which agricultural activities are truly excluded," Fisher said. 

The state wetlands rule is being considered as the Trump administration is making revisions to the Obama-era "waters of the United States" or WOTUS rule that farmers and ranchers say went too far. The federal WOTUS rule, originally published in 2015, would have expanded the agencies' authority to regulate water and land, and came under strong criticism from farmers, ranchers and agricultural organizations. The deadline is April 15 to submit comments on the revised federal rule. 

(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at csouza@cfbf.com.) 


Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.

Special Reports



Special Issues

Special Sections