Clean Water, Yes. Water Rights Bill S 787, No.

By Bill Stamp, Jr., President of the Rhode Island Farm Bureau
Reproduced with permission

Rhode Island Farm Bureau

Nothing is more important than having clean water to drink. About the only thing that comes close is having quality food to eat. Pending legislation (S 787) in the U.S. Congress would grant the Army Corps of Engineers control over ALL of the waters of the United States. This law could put many farmers out of business by over-regulating them from using water to irrigate and from carrying out normal farming practices such as plowing.

No Farmers—No Food!

The decades old conflict between government and land owners (most of whom are farmers and ranchers) over boundaries between navigable waters and other waters of the state was finally resolved at the United States Supreme Court in “Rapanos v. United States” in 2006. In the “Rapanos” case, Justice Scalia in writing for the majority, ruled that “the meaning of ‘navigable waters’ …refers not to water in general, but more narrowly to water as found in streams, oceans, rivers, and lakes.” Justice Scalia further ruled that the Corps’ expansive interpretation of that phrase was not “based on a permissible construction of the statue.” The ruling was a victory for farmers and private landowners. It put a stop to the torment by the Corps inflicted on farmers who were hindered in performing their normal agricultural practices. Even though Justice Stevens, in writing for the dissent, stated that because the Corps of Army Engineers could simply issue permits, they would always do so, his declaration carried no weight of fact.

When that Supreme Court ruling was issued, we were elated for all the farmers and landowners who had suffered financially and emotionally from more than three decades of oppressive domination by the Corps. (I personally suffered a great deal of financial hardship as a result of the Army Corps’ regulation.) We are all aware that there are problems inherent with water pollution and restoration. Farmers, especially, are more aware than most as water is the lifeblood of our livelihood. We depend on water to grow our crops and feed our livestock. Without unimpeded access to water, we cannot survive. However, increasing the power of the Corps of Army Engineers is not a solution to the problem. What is the reason for encouraging and perpetuating their power and control? We fear that if this bill becomes law, along with it will come more regulation, more fees, more laws and, as a result, fewer and fewer farmers. Will we be required to secure a permit from the Army Corps to plow our land?

States can and have managed their waters. Under the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution, powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people. In Rhode Island, farmers have worked quite harmoniously with our Division of Agriculture in managing our waters and wetlands. We intend to continue our vigilance in preserving our water supply. However, the relationship between farmers and government will suffer greatly if this bill becomes law.

Take action
S 787 is The Feingold Clean Water Restoration Act of 2009. More information about the bill can be found on the Senate website at

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