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Court finds fault with federal water transfer regulation

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Friday threw out a federal regulation that allowed government agencies to transfer water between different water bodies, such as rivers and lakes, without needing to safeguard for pollution.

U.S. District Judge Kenneth Karas of the Southern District of New York ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to go back to the drawing board on one aspect of the 2008 regulation. The regulation, known as the water transfers rule, exempts transfers from the national water discharge permit program that is administered by the EPA.

Local government entities, such as the South Florida Water Management District and the City of New York, supported the regulation in part because obtaining permits and staying compliant proved too costly.

They say no permits should be required because they are merely transferring water and are not adding any pollutants. Business interests that depend on government-funded water management systems, such as U.S. Sugar Corp, also supported the rule.

However, environmental groups such as the National Wildlife Federation and Riverkeeper Inc. say water transfers cause pollution and should require permits. The issue has been hotly contested in South Florida where water has been pumped from canals into Lake Okeechobee contaminating the drinking water reservoir.

Karas said in his ruling that the federal agency had failed to adequately explain why it had authority to treat water transfers differently from other types of discharges into water bodies.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley, editing by Ros Krasny and Diane Craft)

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