Thursday, August 17, 2017

California farmer to pay more than $1 million to settle violations found under 2015 WOTUS rule

John Duarte (Modesto Bee photo by Andy Alfaro)
Farming lobbies largely objected to the Obama-era rule that redefined what constituted the "waters of the United States" under the Clean Water Act; a story from California shows why.

Central Valley wheat farmer John Duarte has low-lying spots on his land that hold water a few times a year. Under the old WOTUS rule, these temporarily watery areas wouldn't have counted as waterways, but under the 2015 rule, they do. Duarte "has been at the center of a federal prosecution and multiple federal lawsuits against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers because Duarte tilled vernal pools on his farm. He faced about $2.8 million in fines and upwards of $33 million in mitigation costs to resolve the case," Todd Neeley reports for The Progressive Farmer. "A judge already had ruled that Duarte broke the law; the trial was going to establish the penalties," The Modesto Bee reports.

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Duarte has agreed to pay $330,000 in fines and to spend $770,000 to mitigate the violations. The 44 acres of his property that count as U.S. waterways must be left undisturbed for the next 10 years, though he will be allowed to use them for "moderate non-irrigated cattle grazing and weed, pest, or invasive species control," according to the consent decree he filed in federal court Aug. 15.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has been working on repealing the rule. "Duarte’s lawyers had sought to have Pruitt testify at the trial," the Bee reports. "U.S. District judge Kimberly Mueller overruled that."

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