Senate Committee Examines Federal and State Regulation of Groundwater

The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a hearing on April 18 on the appropriate role of states and the federal government in regulating groundwater. The hearing comes on the heels of several significant court cases, as well as action by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to seek public comment on discharges of pollutants via “hydrologically connected” sources.

Testimony from witnesses, as well as statements and questions from Senators, highlighted a perceived lack of clarity around the Clean Water Act’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System program, and whether pollution that travels through groundwater to surface water via a point source should be regulated under the Clean Water Act. The committee was split along party lines as to whether Clean Water Act authority should apply.

The committee heard testimony from a panel of witnesses, including state officials, a rancher, and a hydrologist. NGWA submitted a letter for the record, reinforcing the association’s position that states are best suited to determine how groundwater resources should be managed and regulated with technical assistance and funding support.

The EPA’s request for comment on the issue closes on May 21. The Senate archived a webcast of the hearing that can be viewed here.

Several varying court opinions demonstrated a need for the EPA or Congress to provide clarity around the Clean Water Act’s applicability to surface water pollution where groundwater acts as a conduit. If the EPA or Congress chose to expand applicability, there could be impacts on groundwater quality, agriculture, and property values.

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