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U.S. Supreme Court ruling alters water protections

The Little Missouri River curves just in front of the Elkhorn Ranch site. The river flows north here to join the Missouri River.
The Little Missouri River curves just in front of the Elkhorn Ranch site. The river flows north here to join the Missouri River.

A Supreme Court ruling has redefined which bodies of water are federally protected.

The “Waters of the United States,” or WOTUS, expanded the definition of “navigable” waters to include bodies of water adjacent to those waters. That expanded the number of bodies of water under EPA protection.

This week the Supreme Court repealed that definition. This removed protections from the Clean Water Act, altering how protected waters are defined under federal regulation.

Opponents said the original definition of WOTUS was federal overreach. They said it unfairly burdened ranchers and landowners.

Rep. Dusty Johnson said the change in defining WOTUS has been a long time in the making.

“I think it's good news. I think it is finally going to put, after ten years of battling, this issue to bed. We have dedicated local and specifically state environmental regulators," said Johnson. "We do not want the federal government forcing farmers to manage wet spots in their land. I just think it was a recipe for disaster and the Supreme Court decision has us back on the right path.”

The change in definition has some organizations concerned for the future of shared water sources.

Guy Larson is the Chair of the South Dakota Chapter of the Sierra Club. He said his group and other environmental organizations will be working hard to change state water protection laws.

Larson said the most important factor in changing legislation and protecting the state’s natural resources is more community involvement.

“We need to pay attention when we vote to find people that are willing to be champions of the environment and willing to stand up for the citizens of the United States. As opposed to politicians that represent natural gas and oil, mining, industrial agriculture, all the extractive industries that want to lay claim to water,” said Larson.  

Attorney General Marty Jackley applauded the Supreme Court's decision. He said it is important that states are allowed to manage their own waterways and that the change in the definition of WOTUS removes undue federal burden.

Evan Walton is an SDPB reporter based in Sioux Falls. Evan holds a Master’s in English Literature from Southern New Hampshire University and was honorably discharged from the United States Army in 2015, where he served for five years as an infantryman.
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