Clean Water Act opposed by Benton city officials

Benton officials have responded to recent regulations imposed under the Clean Water Act.

Officials referred to action taken April 21 when the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers jointly released a proposed rule to clarify protection under the Clean Water Act for streams and wetlands in the United States.

According to information on an EPA website, "Determining Clean Water Act protection for streams and wetlands became confusing and complex following Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006."
The proposed rules have drawn both criticism and praise. An open comment period regarding the proposed rules ended on July 21, but not without a response from the city of Benton and Benton Utilities.

In a joint letter to Rep. Ann Clemmer dated June 13, Mayor David Mattingly and Benton Utilities General Manager Terry McKinney urge that the proposed rules be abandoned due to concerns that the EPA and Corps of Engineers have extended their authority to regulate groundwater to the detriment of local municipalities.

In the letter, Mattingly and McKinney state, "The proposed rule would expand federal regulatory authority under the Clean Water Act and more stringently regulate this type of land feature in very small water bodies. Under this new rule, urban storm water drainage ditches and culverts, ephemeral streams (land that looks like small streams during heavy rains, but are normally not wet during most of the year) would be subject to Clean Water Act jurisdiction.

"The city of Benton and Benton Public Utilities Commission believe it is in the best interest of states and local government to have jurisdiction over smaller, more remote waters (very small headwater streams, drainage ditches, stormwater appurtenances and isolated wetlands) because states and local governments are more accountable to their citizens and more in touch with local environmental and economic situations."

The letter cites an example of how the proposed rules might impact work by the local utility company. "If an electric utility pole is in a ditch, along a road, under this new rule we would have to get a US Corps of Engineers permit to replace the pole or to work in the ditch.

"This would drastically hamper our abilities to maintain our municipal electric system, not to mention sewer mains, water mains and the municipal street department maintaining streets and stormwater ditches that run in the right of ways the city owns."

A final version of the proposed rules is expected in April 2015 after public comments and the possible impact of the rules is considered by the EPA.