LICA's View: Ready to work?

New rules are poised to change the game for contractors.
Steven Anderson
October 30, 2015
By Steven Anderson
Water: the single most important substance in the world. Water: the most available substance in the world. On the surface of those statements it would seem that all is well; we all know there is a “but” lurking within them.  


Without water, life ceases to exist. It is the basis of all cellular structure. While a person can exist without food for weeks, the period of life without water is about three days. If you paid attention in biology class, you already know this. And, as we have spent many days in the trenches up to the top of our boots (or higher) in water, we also know that most of the water we come in contact with is not water we would drink. Therein lies the problem the world faces today: we have a thirsty population looking for a cool, clear glass of ice water on a hot day.

Looking at this from our first world point of view, we tend to miss something about water. In the past, many of the minerals our bodies needed were found in the water we drank. As our supplies have been cleaned and purified, many of those minerals are now removed. Contamination is measured in parts per billion – sort of like trying to find 10 soybeans in a 30,000-bushel bin of corn. Yet look at all the animals that seem to do just fine on water in streams, ponds, lakes and rivers. It all comes down to immunities built up over generations and passed along the tree of life. Life is a very adaptable enterprise and finds a way to survive changes in the environment.

This all brings us to the point where it may be good to mention the huge mule in the room: the new interpretation of what are considered “Waters of the United States” or “WOTUS.” (I use mule as opposed to elephant due to the political party that is the genesis of this new interpretation.) As president of LICA, much information about these crusades comes to my attention, as well as all the efforts to bring reality to bear against them.

While the House has passed a “no you don’t” bill, and the Senate now has one in committee that will most likely be acted on (and hopefully passed) this fall, there probably won’t be enough support to override an almost certain presidential veto. So what was supposedly a clarification of what constitutes “waters of the U.S.” is now an overreach to include just about every drop of water that will “flow” somewhere into a navigable river. Taken to extremes, a homeowner could need an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) permit to change the gutters on his house since that water very often does flow into a significant “nexus.” And for drainage contractors, while the subsurface water in a field is not labeled “waters of the United States,” that changes as soon as the water flows out of a tile – unless that tile empties into a landlocked lake. We all know how often that happens on a drainage project.  

The implications of this new “understanding” of WOTUS are clear. There will be a wave of regulation and permitting that will delay and add to the cost of every job you do. No longer will you be able to pop over and do that short run next to the job you are finishing up, because nobody will be able to afford the fine for doing it without a permit. And that’s assuming you can even get a permit to begin with.  

As I mentioned earlier, it’s about those parts per billion. Does anyone 55 or older think the environment is less clean than when we were young? And just think how many more people will be needed to handle those permit requests and inspections.

So join with LICA and other groups fighting this overreach. Support those elected officials that oppose this plan. Tell them about what is happening in the real world. Help us be a voice of reason and progress.


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