ecology wotus

Seasonal streams feed rivers throughout the state.

The Washington Department of Ecology says it will regulate wetlands, streams and ditches not covered by the Trump administration’s definition of the waters of the U.S., effectively retaining the Obama-era clean water rule that was widely opposed by farm groups.

Ecology estimates the Trump rule, finalized in June, withdrew from federal jurisdiction 29% of the state’s wetlands and 14% of its streams. Ecology says it will start reviewing projects that might disturb those waters.

Ecology claims authority under state law, giving the department broad power to regulate all surface water.

“It is a wide definition. There aren’t going to be many waters that don’t fall under the state,” Ecology spokesman Curt Hart said Tuesday. “Practically anything is a water of the state.”

The federal Clean Water Act requires a permit to work in and around anything defined as waters of the U.S. The Obama administration broadened the definition in 2015, concerning farm groups who said agricultural practices far from surface water would need federal approval.

The Trump administration discarded the Obama rule, limiting federal oversight to territorial seas, navigable rivers, tributaries, lakes, ponds, reservoirs and adjacent wetlands.

Washington, Oregon and California are among 20 states and the District of Columbia suing the Environmental Protection Agency to bring back the Obama rule. Ecology says it won’t wait for the suit to move through the courts.

Washington State Dairy Federation policy director Jay Gordon acknowledged the state can adopt regulations stricter than the federal rules. “Do I like it? No,” he said. “It certainly puts our guys at a disadvantage.”

Under the Obama rule, farmers were uncertain what was covered by the Clean Water Act, Gordon said.

“They wrote a rule that was just ripe for future litigation,” he said. “It was lawsuit bait.”

Currently, Ecology invokes control over about a dozen projects a year that fall outside federal jurisdiction. With the new rule, the department predicts it will regulate more than 300 projects a year.

Ecology has asked for $1.48 million over the next two years to add six full-time employees to review projects. Beyond that, Ecology hopes to get lawmakers to agree to let it charge fees for permits.

House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Brian Blake said Ecology should also seek legislative approval to regulate waters not covered by the federal Clean Water Act.

“Just assuming authority, that’s a problem,” said Blake, D-Aberdeen. “My initial reaction is opposition.”

If he remains chairman of the committee, Blake said he would be in position to hold hearings on reining in Ecology’s authority.

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