Dicks wants Feds to regulate all water

When U.S. Rep Norm Dicks (D-Belfair) answered questions at a recent luncheon in my area, I asked him why he co-sponsored a bill that would give the feds control of all the waters in the United States instead of just navigable waters the way it is now.

He appeared puzzled. “Maybe I made a mistake,” he said.

He’d look into it and call me on it, he said.

I was talking about HR-2421, the Clean Water Restoration Act, which amends the 1972 Federal Water Pollution Control Act by removing the words “navigable waters” and substituting “all waters of the United States.”

Waters of the U.S. are then defined as “all waters subject to the ebb and flow of the tide, the territorial seas, and all interstate and intrastate waters and their tributaries, including lakes, rivers, streams (including intermittent streams), mudflats, sand flats, wetlands, sloughs, prairie potholes, wet meadows, playa lakes, natural ponds, and all impoundments of the foregoing, to the fullest extent that these waters, or activities affecting these waters, are subject to the legislative power of Congress under the Constitution.”

It was introduced in the House on May 22 by its prime sponsor, U.S. Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minnesota), chair of the House Transportation Committee. Among its 158 co-sponsors were Washington congressmen Dicks, Jay Inslee and Jim McDermott.

It was in response to two recent U.S. Supreme court decisions that ruled in favor of local governments and local citizens that said the federal government had exceeded the limit of its authority by regulating land that contained nothing but storm sewers and drainage ditches, calling these wetlands.

Federal jurisdiction, the court said, exists over wetlands only when wetlands have a continuous surface connection with a navigable waterway.

Critics, representing groups from farmers to homebuilders, called it “dangerous” and an unprecedented expansion of federal control over water, land and people.

HR-2421 is in the Interior and Environment Appropriations subcommittee Dicks chairs that has oversight of the Environmental Protection Agency. Under the court ruling, EPA is required to issue a directive rescinding Clean Water protection over millions of acres of water and wetlands.

The bill, Dicks said, is to reassert its control over those areas to restore the original intent of Congress in passing the first water-control act to assure “uniform water quality and aquatic ecosystem protection across the nation. The need today is only greater and drought and increased water usage has placed a premium on the adequacy and safety of supplies of fresh water in many areas of the country.”

Dicks’ spokesman, George Behan, clarified that this was a clarifying bill.

It’s a heckuva lot more than that, I said. It’s a big jump from having control over navigable waters to control over all waters.

Behan agreed but said the feds had been asserting control over far more than navigable waters.

That’s why they wound up in court, I said. If it’s just a clarifying bill, why are so many groups opposing it?

Those groups, he said, want to be able to fill in wetlands.

Which raises the old question of what constitutes a wetland, the greenies insisting if your shoes get wet above the sole, you’re standing in a wetland?

What’s odd to me is that I haven’t seen anybody else writing or talking about this bill, which is a tremendous grab of power from the states which should be able to regulate their own potholes and ditches.

I think the writers of the Constitution would see it that way.

Adele Ferguson can be reached at PO Box 69, Hansville, WA 98340.

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