A Wyoming couple could be facing $75,000 in daily fines from the Environmental Protection Agency for building a small pond on their property.
Fox News reports that Andy and Katie Johnson built the pond on their small piece of land in 2011 to provide water to their cattle. They believed they had followed all of the rules that were necessary. They even received a letter from the Wyoming State Engineer’s Office in April of last year stating, “All of the legal requirements of the State Engineer's Office, that were your responsibility, have been satisfied for the Johnson Stock Reservoir."
But in January the couple received a letter from the EPA saying they violated the federal Clean Water Act.
The letter cited the Johnsons for “the discharge of pollutants (i.e., dredged or fill material) into the waters of the United States.” It also claimed they built a dam without getting a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers.
The letter demands that the couple dismantle the pond or face the stiff fines that are typically reserved for large companies that are caught releasing toxins into federal waters.
"I believe that the EPA does need to regulate industry and the bigger projects," Johnson said, "but my little pristine stock pond, I believe, is a waste of our taxpayer money for them to come after me."
The EPA claims Johnson’s pond is fed by nearby Six Mile Creek which eventually runs into Black Forks River which the agency calls a "navigable, interstate water of the United States."
Johnson denies that his pond is connected to the river and has vowed to fight the fines and the order to dismantle his pond.
“It’s not about me,” he told Wyoming’s Star-Tribune. “It’s about everybody across America.”
The EPA said the Army Corps of Engineers inspected the pond and notified Johnson as early as 2012 that it could be in violation of the Clean Water Act.
“Following the Corps’ determination in 2012, EPA made several attempts to discuss and resolve these issues with Mr. Johnson,” the agency said in a statement Monday. “EPA issued a compliance order in January only after several failed attempts to do so.”
Wyoming Sens. John Barrasso and Mike Enzi sided with the landowner. They, with Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana—the top Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee—sent a letter to the EPA denouncing the agency’s approach to the situation.
“Rather than sober administration of the Clean Water Act," the letter says, "the Compliance Order reads like a draconian edict of a heavy-handed bureaucracy."
Johnson has received numerous offers from area lawyers to help him ask the EPA for a legal review of the compliance order. Without that help he said he would go bankrupt fighting the bureaucracy.
“They are treating me as if I am guilty until I am proven innocent,” he said.