Mohave County weighs in on Clean Water Act

April 1, 2019

Federal agencies are proposing an update to the 1972 Clean Water Act, and the Mohave County Department of Development has a few things to say.

The U.S. Department of Defense, Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency are proposing a rule change to define the scope of “waters of the United States” to be federally regulated under the act.

The prior rule defining such waters, drafted in 2015, said the federal government’s jurisdiction over tributaries included ordinarily dry channels, no matter how small, remote or frequently flowing. The new definition proposed by federal agencies would encompass “traditional navigable waters” only — mostly bodies of water with a continuous flow, rather than waterways such as small streams and ditches used by county and agricultural groups.

According to Mohave County Supervisor Buster Johnson, the county has been pursuing a revision to the Clean Water Act’s definition of “waters of the United States” for years.

“There are a lot of ditches in Mohave County, including ones dug for agriculture,” Johnson said. “Everytime someone wanted to move a line in one of those ditches, they’d have to get permission from the feds. And obviously, something like that isn’t a very high priority for them. It takes time. We want to try and make it reasonable, so the rule affects waterways rather than normal ditches.”

According to Johnson, Mohave County’s population centers can affect the historical flow of the region’s tributaries, and federal regulations can hinder the correction of that flow. The rule change would expedite the process, as well as making the process of irrigation or maintenance easier for all involved.

“It’s a good step forward,” Johnson said. “It’s good for everyone that the feds don’t have to be involved in everything in local channels.”

According to Mohave County Development Services Director Tim Walsh, the proposed definition revision is intended to strike a balance between federal and state waters, and would carry out Congress’s overall objective to restore and maintain the integrity of the nation’s waters in a manner that preserves the states’ sovereignty over their own land and water resources; while ensuring clarity and predictability for federal agencies, tribes, the regulated community and the general public.

The Mohave County Board of Supervisors will on Monday consider a proposal by Walsh to submit comment on the county’s behalf on the proposed rule change.

“Generally, Mohave County supports the proposed rule change,” Walsh said. “Mohave County considers the proposed definition of ‘waters of the United States’ to be superior to the 2015 rules. The proposed rule more appropriately reflects the scope of the agencies’ authority under the statute, the Constitution, the vital role of the states in managing their land and water resources and the need of the public for predictable, easily implementable regulations.”

According to Walsh, Mohave County also supports the proposal for greater state involvement in determining which waters in Arizona are “waters of the United States,” as Federal authorities will allow tribes, community and state agencies to map out what they believe to be their respective “navigable waterways.”

“Mohave County agrees that maps could increase certainty and transparency regarding the data and methods used to determine which waters are jurisdictional and which waters are not,” Walsh said. “Mohave County strongly supports advancing the development of state-of-the-art geospatial data to provide an enhanced, publicly-accessible platform for critical existing programs such as the Risk-Mapping, Assessment and Planning Program of the Federal Emergency Management Program.”