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County ready to oppose proposed EPA rule change

Profile image for By Bj Lewis
By Bj Lewis

A proposed rule change by the Environmental Protection Agency has Denton County officials ready to oppose it and hoping other counties do the same.

Last month, the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released a new proposed rule that would amend the definition of “waters of the U.S.” to expand the range of waters that fall under federal jurisdiction. County officials see this as a way to increase financial and logistical issues for the county.

“Water of the U.S. definition has always been very controversial,” said Denton County engineer Bennett Howell. “It covers a lot of different federal and state agencies and everyone is trying to claim ownership of the water.”

Howell said the current rule states that any waters that are navigable are waters of the U.S. With this proposed rule, it would remove the term “navigable.”

“They removed the term navigable and taken this broad brush stroke and any water could be considered waters of the U.S., including our ditches on the side of the road for drainage,” he said.

That could impact the county because in order to do construction or repair work, the county would have to get U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approval, which could take six months to a year. Howell said it could affect the storm water management program by requiring the county to put forth more effort in labor as well as more dollars to manage storm water in the ditches.

That would drive up the cost of everything else, Howell said.

The proposed rule also could affect the flood plains, he said, changing levels to where it would cause change for homeowners related to the need for flood insurance.

When any state or federal agencies propose a new rule, they have to put it out to the public for a 90-day comment period, which ends July 21.

Commissioners on Tuesday took action to request an extension of the 90-day period for an additional 90 days. Howell said the National Association of Counties and Texas Association of Counties are reviewing this bill and drafting a proposal to send to counties to review and send back with official comments.

County Judge Mary Horn said the EPA and the Corps are going outside their authority to control water nationwide — a move she said has been done before.

“This is another attempt to do just that,” Horn said. “I think it’s imperative that we respond and get our legislators involved by letting them know how this could be costly to Denton County and other counties. It’s imperative we give our input.”