National Association of Counties
Washington, D.C.

 Proposed ‘Waters of U.S.’ rule would hit county budgets

By Julie Ufner

Photo by Matt Fellows
Dusty Williams, Riverside County, Calif.  (second from right) testifies on behalf of NACo and the National Association of Flood and Stormwater Management Agencies at a House hearing on EPA’s “waters of the U.S.” proposal  Also pictured are:  (l to r) J.D. Strong, for the Western Governors’ Association and Western States Water Council; Mark Pifher, for the National Water Resources Association and Western Urban Water Coalition; and Bob Stallman, American Farm Bureau Federation.

In testimony before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Water Resources and the Environment, NACo representative Warren “Dusty” Williams, Riverside County, Calif., said EPA’s proposed “Waters of the U.S.” rule would significantly increase “county budgets and timelines” for infrastructure projects and could put public safety at risk.

The hearing, led by Chairman Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio) and Ranking Member Timothy H. Bishop (D-N.Y.), focused on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) proposed rule, introduced earlier this year, that would amend the definition of “waters of the United States” within the Clean Water Act (CWA). It would dramatically expand the range of waters that fall under federal regulation, including a number of publicly maintained storm water management facilities and roadside ditches.

BulletClick here to view NACo’s “waters of the U.S” information hub for counties

BulletClick here to view NACo’s policy brief and comparison chart on the proposed rule

BulletClick here to view Mr. Williams written testimony 

BulletClick here to view the webcast of the hearing 

“Expanding the number of ditches that are regulated will increase necessary public infrastructure projects’ budgets and timelines,” Williams said. “The cost of operations and maintenance for public infrastructure, such as existing flood damage-reduction systems, will also be increased and will take more time to accomplish than it should for an existing facility — potentially putting public safety at risk and increasing flood damages.”

Williams, general manager and chief engineer for the Riverside’s flood control and water conservation district, testified June 11 at the hearing. His testimony focused on the role counties and public agencies play in the Clean Water Act (CWA) regulatory scheme and outlined the proposal’s potential problems for counties and public agencies.

For example, a roadside ditch under federal jurisdiction would be subject to the CWA Section 404 permit process, which can be extremely complex, time-consuming and expensive, leaving local governments and public agencies charged with public safety vulnerable to citizen suits. 

Williams, who was also testifying on behalf of the National Association of Flood & Stormwater Management Agencies, spoke on the second panel and was joined by panelists representing the Western Governors’ Association and Western States Water Council, the National Water Resources Association and Western Urban Water Coalition, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Association of Home Builders and the American Sustainable Business Council.

Earlier this month, NACo launched a new Web page designed to be one location where county officials and others can obtain information about the proposed federal definition of “Waters of the U.S.”

The proposed rule, published in the Federal Register, is open for public comment, until Oct. 20.

Comment period extended for WOUS rule

In a win for counties, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers  (Corps) announced on June 10 that the public comment period for the proposed rule on  the “Definition of Waters of the United States Under the Clean Water Act” will be extended 91 days to Oct. 20.  The proposed rule, as originally published in the Federal Register on April 21, was open for public comment for 90 days until July 21.

In early May, NACo, along with the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) and National League of Cities (NLC), requested a 90-day extension of the public comment period. Because of the complexity of the proposal, the groups asked for an extension to allow sufficient time for local governments to analyze and comment on the proposed rule. A number of counties also sent extension requests.