Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and the Congressional Western Caucus joined in opposition to legislation introduced by Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.) that seeks to provide the federal government with jurisdictional authority over all water across the entire United States.
The legislation, titled “America’s Commitment to Clean Water Act,” seeks to expand the federal government’s control of U.S. water under the Clean Water Act by removing the existing requirement that regulated waterways be “navigable.” Under the proposed legislation, all inland waters, on both public and private lands, would be controlled and regulated by the federal government.
“Oregon’s farmers and ranchers depend on the land and the water for their livelihood,” Walden said. “There’s already enough concern in certain areas of our state that there may not be enough water to get through the growing season. And now this bill proposes an unprecedented federal government takeover of water in Oregon, from ponds to irrigation ditches that would put the federal government in charge.”
“I have long supported just the opposite: a ground-up effort to land management and regulation. This is top-down Washington, D.C.-driven federal takeover of our water rights,” Walden said.
“It amounts to an unprecedented attack on state water rights and water law by the federal government. We already have too many difficulties dealing with federal agencies on water issues in our part of the world. The last thing we need is to cede more jurisdiction to the feds. Oregon has strong water and environmental laws and Oregonians have a greater ability to work positively to resolve issues with state regulators than they’ll ever have with federal agencies.”
Last December, Rep. Walden joined 27 other lawmakers from the House and the Senate in sending a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid strongly opposing the idea of a federal government takeover.
The letter outlined various concerns with the concept and explained the many negative consequences it will have on people who live in the rural West and whose livelihoods depend on agriculture, raising livestock, and water storage and delivery projects.
Oregon Farm Bureau 2nd Vice President Peggy Browne, a rancher from the Baker Valley, said yet another layer of bureaucracy would threaten restoration work already under way.
“In Oregon there are already several layers of protection that anyone must go through before accessing water in a ditch or stream, including the Oregon Department of State Lands, Department of Environmental Quality, and United States Army Corps of Engineers,” Brown said. “With the current regulatory structure it is very costly to even be permitted for restoration work involving water — I can’t imagine the additional costs added from another layer of federal regulation. Given the current costs and challenges faced by individuals trying to perform restoration, this legislation may only be a commitment to shutting down voluntary restoration work.”