As we look into Missouri’s future, an important issue we will be facing is that of water.

As we look into Missouri’s future, an important issue we will be facing is that of water.

As chairman of the Interim Commission on Agriculture Innovation and Economic Recovery, I feel that one of the main topics we will be dealing with in our discussions will be that of our state’s water resources. This past summer’s drought brought to light just how important those resources really are and how much we depend on our water. Missouri has experienced water extremes in the past couple of years, and different water groups have already contacted me about addressing our state’s future water needs.
Who can forget the winter of 2010-2011 with record snowfall, followed by record-setting spring rains that resulted in massive flooding to Missouri? Two years ago we saw record flooding on the Missouri River. This year was the River’s lowest water level in 20 years. Water, whether too much or too little, has been a frequent topic of discussion. That will most likely continue, because in our state we have numerous interests competing for water supplies. Large cities, industry, recreational entities, and agriculture are but a few of those who rely on water for survival, production, jobs and profit. Forecasts of future water use tell us that water needs could be the most critical issue facing our state in the next decade.

In 1948, Congress passed the Federal Water Pollution Control Act. In 1972, this act was reorganized and expanded and became known as the Clean Water Act.  One of the main purposes of this act was to regulate the discharging of pollutants into U.S. waters.  Under the Clean Water Act, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was given the power to implement pollution control programs and to set standards for release of contaminants in surface water that drains into navigable water.

The statutes of the 1972 Clean Water Act frequently use the term “navigable waters.”  It also uses the term “waters of the United States.”  The EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are trying to get rid of the word “navigable” in the language of this act. In the way the word is used it means that one must be able to navigate waters — the waters must be deep and wide enough to use a boat on them. With this word included in the Clean Water Act, the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are limited in their authority over these waters.  In an effort to bypass Congress, the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are finalizing what is known as “guidance documents” that would greatly expand their authority to write rules governing the protection of navigable waters.  As the Clean Water Act is now written, the EPA’s regulatory authority is restricted to large bodies of water and the waterways that flow into them.

The desire of the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers now; however, is to have control over ALL water bodies within the boundaries of the United States, not just navigable waters.  Under the EPA’s draft “guidance document,” even a drainage ditch can come under federal control if it has a bed, a bank, and a high water mark, and if it connects directly or indirectly to a navigable or an interstate water system. This type of control will affect all farmers, ranchers, and landowners with new rules and regulations over all water bodies, including farm ponds, private lakes, and small creeks and streams, and it will be an infringement of the landowner’s property rights.
The huge regulations and permit requirements that could face landowners and the agriculture world will not stop there. They will affect cities, counties, industry, recreational water users, and anyone else who uses water — which means almost every one of us.  Lest we think we can just vote “No” on these regulations at the polling place or contact our elected officials and voice our disapproval, we need to understand that these EPA guidance documents can be put into effect by executive order, which ignores Congress and the law-making process, as well as the Clean Water Act’s original intentions. It was never the intent of the writers of the Clean Water Act for the federal government to have the kind of control over our local bodies of water that it is seeking today.

In many ways, we in state government find ourselves limited in what we can do about the EPA’s “guidance document.” There is, though, a bill that has been introduced in the U.S. Senate by Senator John Barrasso that, if passed, would prevent EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from moving forward with the guidance document and prevent them from gaining sole control and authority over all our country’s water bodies. As of today, 26 other senators have signed on to the bill.

 Please feel free to contact me with your concerns or questions regarding any state issue. My contact information follows:

Mail: Bill Reiboldt, Office 235-BB, State Capitol, 201 W. Capitol, Jefferson City, MO  65101. Telephone: (573) 751-9781. Personal cell phone: 417-456-0441. Email:

Bill Reiboldt represents the people of Southwest Missouri in the Missouri House of Representatives.