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Utahns are panning and, alternatively, praising new federal environmental guidelines for small bodies of water.
The rules, released Wednesday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers are meant to clarify which streams and tributaries fall under federal jurisdiction after two U.S. Supreme Court rulings dealing with the Clean Water Act muddied the issue.
Utahns echoed the complaints, and celebrations, of landowners across the country.
Land Tawney, executive director of Backcountry Hunter and Anglers, credited an "unprecedented effort to restore clarity to a bedrock natural resources law."
"The rule will conserve resources important to our fish, our wildlife, our citizens and to the waters and wetlands that are central to our national identity," he said.
But Utah Farm Bureau CEO Randy Parker said the rules ignore everyday American property owners' rights.
"We don't think they took into account a lot of the concerns of America's food producers farmers and ranchers across the country," Parker said.
Some farmers worry that every ditch and puddle could now be subject to federal oversight.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said the rule will only affect waters that have a "direct and significant" connection to larger bodies of water downstream that are already protected. The EPA has said 60 percent of the nation's streams and waterways are vulnerable, and these rules clarify which of those waters are protected. The regulations would only kick in if a business or landowner intends to pollute or destroy those waters.
Despite McCarthy's interpretation, conservatives are casting the rules as federal overreach.
Parker said the American Farm Bureau Federation repeatedly asked for clarification of the rules, but never got simple answers.
"If you don't follow certain guidelines in removing brush or fencing, for example, you could be in violation and fined substantially," he said. "How are those tied to clean water?"
U.S. House members voted to block the regulations earlier this month. Similar legislation is making its way through the Senate.
Utah Congressman Rob Bishop said the new rules would make the Clean Water Act "unrecognizable" to those who wrote it.
"It gives the agency power to bully states, Congress and local and private water users," said Bishop, who is chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources. "The implications of this expanded authority on our nation's precious water resources are disturbing, especially as the drought and the bureaucratic mess that worsens its effects are felt throughout the West."
He pledged that his committee will fight the rules' implementation.
Lawmakers argue the rules could greatly expand the reach of the clean water law and create confusion among officials in the field as to which bodies of water must be protected.
McCarthy acknowledged the proposed rules issued last year were confusing and said the final rules were written to be more clear. The regulations don't create any new permitting requirements for agriculture, she said, and even add some new exemptions for artificial lakes and ponds and water-filled depressions.
These efforts were "to make clear our goal is to stay out of agriculture's way," McCarthy said in a blog posted on the EPA website.
McCarthy said the rule will help protect drinking water for 117 million Americans, not to mention the wildlife many citizens enjoy through bird watching, fishing, hunting and nature photography.
"This is a historic day that all sportsmen should welcome," Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the national nonprofit the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, said in a release. "Nearly 15 years after legal confusion contributed to the first accelerated loss of waterfowl habitat in decades, we finally have a rule in place that will help stem the tide of wetlands loss and definitively restore water quality protections to trout habitat and salmon spawning waters."
More than 1 million public comments were received on the rules during the clarification process.
The Associated Press contributed to this story