Farmer Plowed His Own Field. The Government Fined Him $2.8 Million.

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The Clean Water Act has claimed yet another victim.

A Red Bluff, Calif, wheat farmer is facing a $2.8 million fine after he bought 450 acres of land and began plowing it. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says the farmer – John Duarte – violated the Clean Water Act by not getting a permit to discharge dredged or fill material into adjacent wetlands.

Duarte said he was following the law. His attorney, Anthony Francois of the Pacific Legal Foundation, agrees.

“The case is the first time that we’re aware of that says you need to get a [U.S. Army Corps of Engineers] permit to plow to grow crops,” Francois told the Record Searchlight newspaper. “We’re not going to produce much food under those kinds of regulations.”

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Even before he plowed, Duarte hired a consulting firm to help him determine which parts of the land he could and could not plow. Water from the field drains into the Coyote and Oat creeks, which then flows into the Sacramento River.

U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller sided with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in a 2016 ruling. The penalty phase of the trial is scheduled for August, the newspaper reported. The government is asking for $2.8 million.

Francois contends that farmers are exempt from the Clean Water Act rules when they plow. The government disagrees.

“Even under the farming exemption, a discharge of dredged or fill material incidental to the farming activities that impairs the flow of the waters of the United States still requires a permit, because it changes the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the waters,” the U.S. attorney wrote in court documents.

The government wants Duarte to repair the wetlands and replant certain plants.

“A plain reading of the rules says you don’t need a permit to do what he did,” Francois told the Record Spotlight. “How do you impose a multimillion penalty on someone for thinking the law says what it says.”

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