Water bill too broad for nation, critics say

Both Colo. senators opposing legislation

A proposed revision of the federal Clean Water Act would dramatically expand the hand of the federal government in administering water, prompting skepticism from Colorado water officials and legislators.

The bill by Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., would reduce the role state and local officials play in making decisions about water, Club 20 Executive Director Reeves Brown said.

The upshot, Brown said, “is that the federal government takes everything, and the state and local governments are also-rans.”

Feingold’s bill, S. 787, would extend the reach of the act, which was approved in 1972 to cover all navigable waters. The revision would encompass all the waters of the United States: interstate waters, intrastate lakes, rivers, streams, wetlands, mud flats, sand flats, sloughs, prairie potholes, wet meadows, playas and natural ponds, as well as tributaries to those waters.

The measure, said Chris Treese of the Colorado River Conservation District, would affect “everything that is wet, ever was wet or ever might be wet.”

Both Colorado senators, Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, said the bill was overly broad, and they couldn’t support it as written.

It “could block access to waters for sportsmen and fishermen who have proven to be excellent stewards of our lands,” Bennet said in a statement.

Udall said he was “encouraging stakeholders to develop compromise language.”

Feingold said in a news release that every day Congress fails to act, “more and more waters are stripped of their protections, jeopardizing the drinking water of millions of Americans, as well as our nation’s wildlife habitats, recreational pursuits, agricultural and industrial uses, and public health.”

A similar measure introduced last year in the House drew opposition from Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., who urged Congress “not to cede too much power and control to the federal government, especially when it comes to water.”

The proposal also would pertain to any land uses that might affect water quality.

The original Clean Water Act has been muddied by a series of court decisions that have left agencies and users in a quandary, Treese said.

“There is a need to provide clarity in the Clean Water Act,” Treese said, “but we don’t want to see the federalization of all waters and all lands.”


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