We’ve Got Issues: Trout anglers fret future of federal water rule

Jan 30, 2017

Tom Baird is president of Anglers of the Au Sable.
Credit LINDSEY SMITH / MICHIGAN RADIO

Fishing groups in northern Michigan are worried about President Trump’s plans for the Clean Water Rule.

The Clean Water Rule, also known as the Waters of the United States rule, outlines what types of waterways are protected under the Clean Water Act of 1972. The rule has been held up in court since its publication and has not yet gone into effect.

The Trump administration calls the rule burdensome and wants to eliminate it.

But northern Michigan fishing groups say the Clean Water Rule will be essential for maintaining healthy streams in the future. 

Support among anglers

Tom Baird, president of the group Anglers of the Au Sable, is a firm supporter of the Clean Water Rule. He says he’s concerned about the headwaters of trout streams, if the rule is rescinded.

“That rule clarified the definition of waters of the U.S. to include smaller streams and wetland areas which flow into larger areas,” Baird says. “They help clean the water as it runs off the land and into the bigger rivers, and that’s important because trout need clean water.”

The headwaters are also breeding grounds for smaller fish, Baird says, where the fish can find protection and grow.

Baird says there are no immediate threats to the Au Sable River but points to oil and gas drilling and agriculture as potential sources of pollution in the future. 

“The threat is always there,” Baird says.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency published the rule in May 2015 in the wake of several Supreme Court cases concerning the scope of the law. Baird says those cases created ambiguity about what kinds of waterways are protected under the law. 

The EPA under the Obama administration said that the Clean Water Rule clarified that point, but opponents of the rule disagree. 

Opposed by farmers

Business groups across the country have spoken against the rule, including many representatives of the agricultural industry.

Laura Campbell, manager of the Agricultural Ecology Department at the Michigan Farm Bureau, says the regulation is overreaching and confusing. 

 

“We have been opposed to what the EPA has been trying to do with Waters of the U.S. rule,” Campbell says, “and that is essentially to take the notion of what can be regulated by the federal government and expand that all the way up into the countryside to include  … tiny, unconnected waters.”

Campbell says the rule goes way beyond what congress intended when it wrote the Clean Water Act. She says the rule would mean certain ditches, intermittent streams and low spots in fields could be regulated on farmers’ land. 

“I think farmers want straightforward and understandable regulation,” Campbell says. “They want something that’s going to effectively protect water quality but which is also going to recognize that the states have a responsibility for that role, too.”

The future

President Trump says he is committed to eliminating the Clean Water Rule. Republican leaders in Congress have made similar promises.

The rule is currently on hold, after the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay in October 2015.