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(Dry) Waters of the U.S.



A southern Iowa man wants to build a pond on his 420-acre property for its water supply, fishing, and ecological benefits. But the federal government keeps his dry land dry, Dan Ward told Farm Journal. And Ward feels like there is no legitimate reason to prevent him from having the family pond.


“We’ve reached a place where our own officials believe they can disregard Supreme Court law. What the government is doing on my land is 100% about keeping power,” Ward told Farm Journal.

Ward contends that this is a bureaucracy’s overreach. He said that the area where he wants to build his pond is 100 miles away from a river. In other words, it is nowhere near a water supply, other than the occasional puddle that forms on his property after a decent rainfall.



Ward’s story fuels critics who feel like they are drowning due to the provisions from the plan known as Waters of the United States (WOTUS). Last August, the Environmental Protection Agency reduced by more than half the waterways protected under WOTUS, but criticism from landowners like Ward remains.


A May 2023 U.S. Supreme Court decision triggered the EPA actions. The court had ruled that protections under WOTUS should only apply to “wetlands with a contiuous surface connection to bodies that are waters of the United States in their own rights.” 


The premise of WOTUS had been to protect waterways under the Clear Water Act. It would prohibit the discharge of certain pollutants into water sources.


RELATED: Ward and Smith, a North Carolina law firm, has additional background on the 2008 legal challenge to Water of the U.S. It also explains many of the legal definitions used in the court cases at the center of the disagreements. You can find that here.  


WOTUS didn’t define “waters.” Disagreements followed about how big a body of water must be, whether it feeds into a larger body of water, and whether pollutants could spread.


Ward doesn’t see how this can be an issue on his property because the area where he wants to build his pond is almost always completely dry.  


Some landowners, regardless of whatever intent federal authorities had, see WOTUS as an intrusion on their property rights.


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