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The Borden Ranch Story


The Borden Ranch Partnership owns a 3,250-acre ranch in Sacramento County, California. For five or six years, the Borden Ranch Partnership has planted much of the property in vineyards and orchards. But that may all come to an end because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says that the company must first get its permission to plow on much of the land due to federal wetland protections.

Portions of the Borden Ranch have small, isolated vernal pools and drainage swales. A vernal pool is a temporary wetland that is created when rainwater fills a depression in the ground. Since the pools are dry most of the year, the land has periodically been cultivated. Likewise, the drainage swales only contain water for a short amount of time during and after storms. Even though the land the Borden Ranch is located on has been used for farming for at least a century, the Corps of Engineers now demands that its owners apply for special permission each time it wants to plow the land. The Corps of Engineers is insisting on this even though Borden Ranch set aside 1,000 acres of land for open space to protect many of the wetlands in question.

Under Section 404 of the federal Clean Water Act, the Corps of Engineers issues permits "for the discharge of dredged or fill material into the navigable waters at specified disposal sites." The Corps of Engineers interprets this to mean that the routine plowing required to plant the vineyards "pollutes" the temporary wetlands with dirt. Even though the Clean Water Act has amendments that specifically exempt farming activities from such intrusive regulation, the Corps of Engineers is now arguing that it has the right to regulate the most basic farming activities, ostensibly to protect wetlands. The Borden Ranch Partnership went to court to fight this regulatory power grab. But a federal trial court ruled that the Corps of Engineers does have jurisdiction over the company's agricultural activities. The company is now appealing the decision.
Source: Pacific Legal Foundation