Federal Clean Water Act Wrong for Arizona

Posted on January 30, 2008 | Type: In the News
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Phoenix--Congress is considering whether to expand the reach of the federal Clean Water Act. But is expanding a law designed for water-rich environments like Florida good for the drought-stricken deserts of Arizona? A new report from the Goldwater Institute says no.

Muddy Waters: Deconstructing the Clean Water Act in Arizona finds that the Clean Water Act doesn't take Arizona's unique desert environment into account. As a result, Arizona homeowners and businesses pay the price with unnecessary property rights restrictions, less innovative environmental management, and high costs to navigate through the regulatory maze.

"The Clean Water Act adds substantial costs and delays to private developers and local governments attempting to comply with the law. When Arizonans are forced to treat sand as if it were water, serious attention should be given to reforming or opting out of the law," says Benjamin Barr, author of the report and Senior Fellow in constitutional studies with the Goldwater Institute.

The average property owner hoping to develop areas that fall under Clean Water Act authority will spend 788 days and $271,596 working with federal authorities to do so. State and local governments must also pay these extra compliance costs to build roads and schools. For example, the proposed 33,000 acre Douglas Ranch development in Buckeye, Arizona, contains 230 acres of desert washes that flow 1.5 times per year on average. Despite this limited flow, and the fact that these washes are 192 miles away from the nearest navigable river, they fall under federal jurisdiction.

But Barr says there is more than money at stake. Traditionally, state governments have had jurisdiction over land use and environmental policymaking. The Clean Water Act usurps that authority and hands it over to Washington, D.C., violating the core constitutional tenet of federalism.

Barr recommends that Congress revise the Clean Water Act to include a provision allowing states like Arizona to opt-out of the Act in favor of local control over the management and development of its waterways and wetlands. By reassuming control of its environmental policies, local Arizona policymakers will be free to use innovation as their guide in developing environmental policy, instead of a one-size-fits-all federal regulation, says Barr.

Building on 30 years of water quality legislation, Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1977 with the aim of cleaning up and protecting navigable waters and wetlands. In Arizona, Clean Water Act rules and regulations apply to dry washes, arroyos, and even sand. These "waters" then become regulated by water quality standards for swimming, fishing, and drinking water.

Arizona had a long history of regulating water effectively before the Clean Water Act passed. Today, state law covers water management extensively. Placing the responsibility for regulating and managing Arizona's water back in the hands of local lawmakers will ensure the state's water stays clean, while protecting citizens and local governments from unnecessary federal red tape.

Muddy Waters: Deconstructing the Clean Water Act in Arizona is available online or by calling (602) 462-5000. The Goldwater Institute is a nonprofit public policy research and litigation organization whose work is made possible by the generosity of its supporters.

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