Flooded cropland near Lake Mattamuskeet. File photo

A recent ruling to end the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, reverting back to the pre-2015 definition of “waters of the United States,” or WOTUS, and a proposed rule to revise the definition of WOTUS, has raised some questions that the North Carolina Cooperative Extension hopes to answer during a virtual meeting.

The “WOTUS and Agriculture” webinar is set for 10:30 a.m. Tuesday. The discussion will explore the proposed changes and their expected effects on farms and farm properties. Register online for the Zoom meeting.

Andrew Branan, assistant extension professor in the Department of Agriculture and Resource Economics at North Carolina State University, is expected to discuss the differences in the former, current and proposed rules from a legal viewpoint. Chad Poole, assistant professor and extension specialist in the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering at North Carolina State University, is expected to explore the changes from an engineering perspective.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Army issued on April 21, 2020, the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, “a final rule defining the scope of waters federally regulated under the Clean Water Act,” According to the Federal Register from April 2020. “The Navigable Waters Protection Rule is the second step in a comprehensive, two-step process intended to review and revise the definition” of WOTUS, consistent with then-President Trump’s executive order dated Feb. 28, 2017.

Following an executive order signed January 2021 by President Joe Biden directing federal agencies to review certain regulations, the agencies reviewed the rule and found that it “did not appropriately consider the water quality impacts of its approach to defining ‘waters of the United States’ and that the rule’s reduction in the scope of protected waters could have a potentially extensive and adverse impact on the nation’s waters,” according to the Federal Register.

The agencies announced June 2021 intentions to revise the definition of “waters of the United States.”  The forthcoming rule proposes to restore the regulations defining “waters of the United States” in place for decades until 2015, updated to be consistent with relevant Supreme Court decisions.

After a federal district court decision vacated the rule Aug. 30, 2021, the agencies began interpreting “waters of the United States” consistent with the pre-2015 regulatory regime.

The EPA and Corps announced Nov. 18, 2021, the signing of a proposed rule to revise the definition of WOTUS. The proposed rule was published Dec. 7, 2021, in the Federal Register. The public comment period continues until Feb. 7.

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