A bill in the legislature aimed at fighting federal regulation of waterways has drawn the ire of recreation seekers.
The measure from House Republican Robert Ross of southern Missouri’s Yukon is titled “Navigability of Missouri’s Waters”. He says it has two purposes.
One is to provide opposition to the “Water of the U.S.” rule under the Obama administration, which he claims is far too invasive. He contends the rule, as put forth by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corp. of Engineers, designates every drop of water within the state as navigable for regulation.
Ross says the other purpose of his proposal is to crystallize state laws of waterways for Missourians.
“Many individuals within the state don’t know what our current law is, relative to water in the state of Missouri” said Ross. “House Bill 556 is codifying, not changing, this is not Representative Ross’s version. This is case law as it exists within the state of Missouri.”
But every person who testified at the hearing for Ross’s bill in Jefferson City spoke out strongly in opposition.
One of them was Holly Neill of the conservation group Stream Teams United. She says the measure only creates more confusion for water enthusiasts.
“It doesn’t really clarify, or it leaves it up to interpretation I feel, on how recreationists can utilize our waterways going forward” said Neill. “It doesn’t really clarify that, which I would love to see that happen, because there is confusion.”
Ross thinks people are misinterpreting his bill. He says his codification of navigability has no impact on recreation.
“The only question that really answers of whether it’s navigable or not is ‘Where is the property line?’ and ‘Who can regulate it?’. It has nothing to do with recreational users whatsoever.”
Neill, with Stream Teams United, thinks the language in Ross’ bill leaves too much open for interpretation.
“I think people will misinterpret the language or they won’t understand what currently recreational users have available on Missouri waterways right now.”
Water enthusiast say the measure could blur property lines and create tension between landowners and paddlers who might want to come ashore.
As for Ross’ focus on the federal rule, “Waters of the U.S.” has been in litigation for several years and a divided federal appeals court blocked it implementation in 2015 with a stay. President Donald has since signed an executive order to roll back the regulations.
Representative Ross acknowledges the legal and administrative setbacks, but remains skeptical of their effectiveness. “We’re still realistically one bad court decision away from Waters of the U.S. becoming the administrative law here in the state of Missouri.”
Representative Don Phillips (R-Kimberling City) sits on the committee that heard Ross’ proposal. He questioned what Ross hoped to accomplish introducing his bill at such a late stage in the legislative session, but offered his full backing of its push back against the federal government.
“If it was just affecting the EPA and the Corps, I’d order the party balloons and the ice cream and cake right now” said Phillips.