California farmer battles EPA in court over its Clean Water Act overreach

From a farmer’s perspective, John Duarte’s California wheat field doesn’t look very special – a typical shallow- plowed field awaiting its next planting. But in the eyes of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the bottom of every furrow is a “wetland” and the soil at the top of the furrow is a “converted upland.”

This is just one of the absurdities Duarte cites when talking about his court fight with the Corps and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over their efforts to regulate his farm, and virtually all of agriculture, under new definitions of what constitutes Waters of the United States (WOTUS). The recently enacted rule gives the agencies authority under the Clean Water Act to “radically expand federal jurisdiction over land use,” according to American Farm Bureau.

In Ohio, 99 percent of its land base would fall under agency regulation, according to preliminary maps provided by AFBF.

Duarte’s farm is an example of how far the government can reach. The Corps ruled that the act of plowing created a discharge into a regulated waterway. That waterway is the Sacramento River, which is eight miles away and connects to Duarte’s field by a creek that carries water only during times of heavy runoff.

Duarte is taking on the federal government in court with assistance from a landowner’s rights group. The government has countersued. Duarte said he doesn’t expect to be the only farmer to fight to protect his or her right to farm. “This very serious threat is coming to a farm near you,” he said.

He estimates that EPA and the Corps have spent more than $1 million to stop him from farming his 445-acre wheat field. Duarte said dozens of government employees have been on his land to collect evidence against him.

“These guys literally did a pebble distribution survey” to document the vertical and horizontal movement of pebbles caused by plowing, he said. Federal officials also dug “20 or 30 backhoe pits (in order) to show that we plowed 8 inches deep.”

Duarte isn’t the only one who finds the government’s actions to be excessive. The Government Accountability Office said the EPA engaged in “covert propaganda” in its social media campaign to build public support for its WOTUS expansion.

Congress and farmers continue to look for ways to stop the WOTUS expansion. Encouraged in part by 2,400 postcards from Ohio Farm Bureau members, lawmakers passed legislation to rein in the agencies, but President Obama vetoed the bill. Still in play are court challenges made by 27 state governments, including Ohio, and implementation of the rule is on hold for now. Congress is expected to keep up its pressure on the administration.

For information on AFBF’s ongoing efforts and how you can help, visit

Photo caption:
John Duarte estimates federal officials have spent more than $1 million to try to stop him from farming his wheat field in California.

Ohio Farm Bureau’s work on water quality and nutrient managment is supported by membership dollars. Join, renew or contribute to Farm Bureau today.


Joe Cornely 

Joe Cornely is senior director of corporate communications for Ohio Farm Bureau.

One thought on “California farmer battles EPA in court over its Clean Water Act overreach

  1. Avatar Diego Kast says:

    Good comments – I was fascinated by the insight – Does anyone know if my assistant can get ahold of a fillable UK EEA4 version to fill in ?

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