To ditch or not to ditch

Farmers, ranchers angered by proposed rule

To see Gina McCarthy's full speech from July 10, visit And to read more about the opposition to the rule, visit

The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed changes to the Clean Water Act that are highly controversial throughout the country.

The proposed rule is called Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS), and the EPA states on its website that it’s meant to “clarify protection under the Clean Water Act for streams and wetlands that form the foundation of the nation’s water resources.” Many farmers and ranchers believe this rule would overstep and extend the EPA’s power unfairly and needlessly.

One of the main waterways that farmers are worried about being regulated under this rule is ditches used for irrigation. Farming and ranching groups all over the country have posted their opposition to WOTUS on social media using #DitchTheRule. Most, if not all, of these posts state a fear that the rule would bog them down in permits. Farmers say the EPA would regulate the ditches and other parts of their land, so changes to these areas would necessitate a permit.

“For an example, sometimes we have to go and do excavation on [drain ditches] if there’s structural issues or if there’s a pipe or something like that,” Schank said. “So every little aspect of that, from the way I understand it, would have to be permitted, and the EPA is going to regulate it, which will make it super complicated. It’s more costly, etc.”

Schank said other projects he has to complete relatively often on his farm would need to be permitted by the EPA and said he doesn’t think it would be feasible to obtain a permit for all of these tasks. He also worries about how long getting a permit would take, saying that some crops could be lost in just a few days without water if the farmer had to wait too long for a permit to, for example, clean out a ditch.

He also said he believes this could make farming too expensive for smaller operations, and according to the Nevada Farm Bureau Federation, 82 percent of Nevada farms and ranches are owned by families.

“It’s not only going to cost us, it’s—whether we’re producing alfalfa for dairies, that price will be passed all the way through or if you’re producing cash crops, they go straight to the consumer, so it’s going to affect them, too,” Schank said. “It costs more time and money. … If you can make it work and make money, you should do it, but if things like this keep getting in the way and making the practice harder to do, you’re going to see less and less of it.”

The EPA, on the other hand, said there will be no new permitting required by WOTUS. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has been travelling around the country defending the proposed rule.

“The bottom line is—if you didn’t need a permit before this proposed rule, you won’t need one when it’s finalized … ,” she said in Kansas City on July 10. “EPA is not saying that all ditches are jurisdictional. In fact, our proposal specifically says we are not regulating all ditches—unlike the current, existing regulations. … While some ditches are connected to larger water systems and are vital to public health and water quality, the vast majority are not, and therefore not jurisdictional.”

Many farming and ranching groups still don’t believe this is the case though and continue voicing opposition on social media saying that McCarthy has misrepresented the rule.