This month provided two opportunities for the golf industry to respond to the latest attempt by federal agencies to define Waters of the United States (WOTUS) under the Clean Water Act. The first was a joint meeting with federal regulators that was initiated by the Waters Advocacy Coalition, of which GCSAA has been a long-time member. Bob Helland, GCSAA director of congressional and federal affairs, joined other representatives from impacted sectors of the economy, including agriculture, housing and transportation, to argue against a WOTUS replacement rule proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The second opportunity was a smaller meeting where Helland spoke directly to agency representatives in opposition to the proposed rule. In this meeting, he was joined by Mark Johnson, GCSAA director of environmental programs.
In both meetings, Helland made the argument that the proposed rule would hurt golf’s operations by creating considerable confusion about what water features on their land are subject to federal jurisdiction. The stakes remain high; if a water feature such as a ditch or wetland is in fact a WOTUS, then a federal permit is required for such things as the application of pesticides. It’s important to golf that federal officials get it right. Helland also argued that any effort to redefine WOTUS was premature. The Supreme Court just heard oral arguments in Sackett v. EPA, where the plaintiffs argued that the wetland adjacent to their property should not be defined as a WOTUS. A decision in that case is expected in the spring and could force the EPA and the Army Corps to go back to the drawing board.
Johnson made the point that the “significant nexus” test that the EPA and the Army Corps are considering to determine WOTUS continues to pose problems for golf. The EPA and Army Corps want to reinstate this test – part of the 2015 Clean Water Rule – despite it not being supported under law and, in fact, was replaced by the 2020 Navigable Waters Protection Rule. Johnson argued that this step backward would set the stage for confusion over federal regulation of water as well as the inclusion of features not normally considered to be WOTUS, such as isolated waters and other drainages.
Golf course superintendents are professionals who utilize agronomic and environmental best management practices to focus on protecting the environment, including water quality by reducing the movement of sediment, nutrients and pesticides to water. GCSAA will continue to hammer the need for cooperation with stakeholders, such as the golf industry, and to not take a “one-size-fits-all” approach to the regulation of waters. Golf’s voice will continue to be heard.