The Clean Water Restoration Act currently pending in the U.S. Senate could reach to control even a "seasonal puddle" on private property.
Eleven senators and 17 representatives in the U.S. House have sent a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid and Speaker Nancy Pelosi blasting the measure as one of the boldest property grab attempts of all time.
This bill is described by opponents as a sweeping overhaul of the Clean Water Act that could threaten both physical land and jobs by wiping out some farmers entirely.
"Right now, the law says that the Environmental Protection Agency is in charge of all navigable water," said Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., chairman of the Senate Western Caucus and an opponent of the bill.
"Well, this bill removes the word 'navigable,' so for ranchers and farmers who have mud puddles, prairie potholes -- anything from snow melting on their land -- all of that water will now come under the regulation of the Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency," he said.
Barrasso said the federal government's one-size-fits-all approach doesn't work in the west where the Rocky Mountain states have gone even further than Washington to protect land, water and the environment.
"The government wants control of all water -- that also means that they want control over all of our land including the private property rights of people from the Rocky Mountain west, the western caucus and the entire United States," he said.
But Jan Goldman-Carter of the National Wildlife Foundation said fears by ranchers and farmers are unfounded.
"That amended language is very clear that it preserves long standing exemptions for ongoing agricultural practices, forest roads. There are a number of very generous exemptions in there particularly for ranchers and farmers that I know have been worried about the effect of this legislation, but in fact those worries are largely unfounded," she said.
Goldman-Carter added that the United States has long regulated streams and other waterways that aren't 'navigable' by boat because to do otherwise would be to allow dumping into smaller water sources that lead to the larger ones used for drinking water and other purposes.
"I can't imagine anyone wanting to walk down to the stream and dump their oil or paint," she said. "Even if they did they're not going to be enforced against now and they never were, there simply isn't the ability to do that."
Aside from striking "navigable," the bill defines U.S. water as "all waters subject to the ebb and flow of the tide, the territorial seas and all interstate and intrastate waters and their tributaries, including lakes, rivers, streams (including intermittent streams), mudflats, sandflats, wetlands, sloughs, prairie potholes, wet meadows, playa lakes, natural ponds and all impoundments of the foregoing, to the fullest extent that these waters."
It adds that any "activities affecting these waters are subject to the legislative power of Congress under the Constitution."
The legislation, introduced by Wisconsin Democratic Sen Russ Feingold, has the support of 24 senators. It passed the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in June but has not been scheduled for a floor vote, though it could be tacked onto other legislation as an amendment.