Wyoming welder’s water war

A ripple in a Wyoming creek has reverberated all the way to the Potomac River in our nation’s capital.

Andy Johnson, a welder from Fort Bridger in southwestern Wyoming, fashioned his own homemade pond in his family’s front yard in 2012. It is entirely on his own 8-acre property, but was forged using Six Mile Creek, a waterway that runs through his front yard and which the Environmental Protection Agency claims is federal territory.

Johnson, 32, has vehemently opposed this claim- as well as the EPA’s repeated fines of up to $37,500/day that he has received repeatedly since 2014- maintaining that he had state approval prior to creating the pond. Such approval includes permits, safety guidelines, and regulatory requirements. The EPA has taken exception, as they have in similar cases, on the grounds of the Clean Water Act, which contends that water safety should be under federal regulation instead of those who have it on their property.

While many have rallied to oppose what they view as an example of federal overextension, the EPA argues that it is necessary for them to retain control over such areas due to the risk of water pollution. A private report he commissioned found only positive environmental results. But the E.P.A.’s violation notice described the rocks, sand and concrete he used to create the dam and spillway as pollutants.

Meanwhile, Johnson sees the opposite happening since his pond was completed. “Stock ponds” are common in the West, especially for farmers with livestock such as Johnson who cultivate their land in order to water cattle and horses. Since creating it, he and his family have seen blue herons and an eagle, moose and muskrat come to drink, and it is full of trout.

Cows watering at a stock pond in Colorado

Cows watering at a stock pond in Colorado.

The Johnson family’s story has accumulated national attention and been widely reported. He has since filed a lawsuit after being pushed to the brink by the accumulating fines. The suit argues that the pond is exempt from the Clean Water Act because it was created to water stock. Further, it says the creek is too far removed from navigable rivers to fall under the E.P.A.’s authority. Johnson has said he intends to endure the battle for as long as necessary.

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