The following letter was sent to the EPA concerning the Winnebago Tribe’s assertion of the Clean Water Act (CWA) authority:
December 26, 2019
Ms. Ann Lavaty
EPA Region 7
11201 Renner Blvd.
Lenexa, KS, 66219
Re: Winnebago Tribe’s assertion of authority to regulate surface water quality under CWA sections 303(c) and 401.
Dear Ms. Lavaty:
The undersigned Nebraska organizations are writing you to express our deep concern about the application from the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska to be eligible for “treatment in a similar manner as a state” for purposes of administering Sections 303(c) and 401 of the Clean Water Act (CWA). Approval of this proposal would provide the Winnebago Tribe authority to issue or deny certification for federal permits or licenses for activities on land which, in some cases, is not currently owned by the Winnebago Tribe.
While we understand the CWA authorizes EPA to treat eligible Indian tribes with reservations in a similar manner to states for a variety of purposes, only about one-third of the Winnebago Reservation acreage submitted as part of this proposal is owned by the Tribe and individual tribal members. Therefore, many landowners, farmers and ranchers on these lands would be regulated by a “Water Quality Specialist” and possibly a Tribal Council on which they have no representation.
In its application, the Winnebago Tribe indicated concern about “…the misuse of pesticides, land application of animal and other waste, bank erosion, nutrient runoff from fertilizer application and livestock grazing,” indicating a preconceived notion that modern agricultural practices are to blame for water quality issues in and around the reservation, and a general lack of understanding of how highly regulated farming and ranching practices are by federal, state, and local governments.
In accordance with the CWA, the State of Nebraska already reports the status and trends of existing water quality and the effectiveness of the water pollution control programs for each of the bodies of water and basins described in this application.
As statewide organizations concerned about good and efficient government, we are urging EPA to analyze this application from a qualification standpoint and consider the precedent set. We ask you carefully consider the cost and uncertainty associated with the Winnebago Tribe taking over enforcement of state and federal regulations on the non-Tribally-owned land.
Thank you for your consideration of these concerns; please feel free to reach out if you have questions or would like additional information.
Steve Nelson, President
Nebraska Farm Bureau
Scott Merritt, Executive Director
Nebraska Agri-Business Association
Ken Herz, President