Waters of the United States rule change gets support from Arizona leaders

Arizona may be a desert, but its bodies of water play a significant role in the state’s vitality. Now, a federal rule alteration over the “Waters of the United States” could mean big changes for how some waterways are regulated in the state. The rule change proposed by the Trump Administration, in relation to an Obama-era Clean Water Act rule, would remove “ephemeral” streams from Clean Water Act protection, which are streams that run due to rain and snow.

Currently, environmental and conservation groups in the state are opposing the proposal, saying it would be a big pushback against protections that were years in the making. On the other hand, industries such as mining and development, could see benefits as it would remove permitting to get new projects underway.

Now, the rule change is picking up support from Arizona state leaders. Seven state department heads submitted a letter to the federal government on April 15th detailing why the state’s executive branch is backing the rule change. Despite their support, those who penned the letter are asking the federal government and the Army Corps of Engineers to hold off on implementing any changes for the time being.

“We look at this through the lens at managing a significant amount of land in the state that has potential for development. If it is hindered by a regulatory overlay, you strip the value out of that asset,” Lisa Atkins, Arizona’s Land Commissioner said. “When you look at the majority of the state’s waterways and you realize they’re ephemeral streams that only flow in response to events, like flash floods, you’re dealing with value proposition. You’ve lost value of the potential for development.”

The signers of the letter state that the jurisdiction over the ephemeral waterways would strip a parcel “of sufficient contiguous farmable or developable land.” This would supposedly lower the value of public and private lands for future development projects.

The Arizona department heads who signed off on the letter asked the federal government to delay implementation until the state passes its own program to protect the quality of surface water. This is a significant request as about 94 percent of Arizona’s streams are ephemeral or intermittent (i.e. seasonal waters), according to the state officials.

The issue is being debated throughout the rest of the country as 15 attorneys general are vehemently opposing the Trump administration’s proposal and leaders in other states, like Iowa, are in support of the rule change.

“It’s commercial development which provides jobs and transportation and utilities and rooftops,” Atkins said. “This is the property you use for goods and services. If the trust has an opportunity to be able to deal with lands the same ways landowners can, we have the potential to develop it for lease or sale.”

The additional signers of the state’s letter include Misael Cabrera, director of the Department of Environmental Quality; Robert Broscheid, director of Parks and Trails; Ty Gray, director of the Game and Fish Department; John Halikowski, director of the Department of Transportation; Mark Killian, director of the Department of Agriculture; and Sandra Watson, president and CEO of the Arizona Commerce Authority.

Nick Esquer

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