Wyoming Farmer Wins EPA Case

Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Volume 25, Number 52, May 3, 2014

Wyoming Farmer Wins EPA Case

Starting in 2005, David Hamilton spent an estimated $30,000 to clean up an irrigation ditch running through his Worland farm. Discarded cars, broken appliances and scattered debris were retired from their service protecting the banks from erosion. In their place, a dredge and fill project ensued, straightening out and cleaning up the ditch.

All was calm. The project was a success.

Four years later, administrative action was taken against Hamilton and Hamilton Properties, and the next year, a lawsuit was filed against him by the federal government, United States v. Hamilton. Contending that the Clean Water Act (CWA) had been violated, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was then entitled to fine him as much as $37,500 per day.

In the trial, which was held in Cheyenne, Harriet Hageman of Hageman Law, P.C. in Cheyenne defended Hamilton. Hageman says that the EPA was angry because he did not ask for permission first. As his attorney, she says that he didn’t have to. Her argument was successful.

The jury agreed. Two weeks in court and 140 minutes of deliberation led to a decision in favor of David Hamilton. According to Hageman, the jury held that these “dredge or fill activities” were exempt from the 404 permitting requirements because they constituted “normal farming and ranching activities,” including upland soil and water conservation.

They also concluded that “Slick Creek,” the common name for irrigation ditch in question, is a man-made irrigation ditch and exempt from section 404 of the CWA.