Kentucky lawmakers have been grappling with a new kind of environmental justice controversy.
The state’s Senate voted Tuesday to repeal a rule that had prohibited cities and counties from restricting the use of water on their own property.
The rule, issued in 2014 by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, required cities and towns to use at least 90 percent of water available to them.
That included not using water from private wells or municipal sewer systems.
That’s the same amount of water used to irrigate crops or provide heating.
The governor and the Legislature voted to repeal the rule, but the governor and Republican lawmakers want to keep it.
It has divided environmentalists.
Activists have pushed for the repeal of the rule and said it unfairly targets local governments.
But conservationists, including the Kentucky Sierra Club, are fighting back.
Some are saying the rule is necessary to protect water resources, particularly in Kentucky, where there is more frequent drought.
Some conservationists are arguing that the rule has the potential to stifle local development, especially in the wake of climate change.
“We’ve got to make sure that our water resources are not used for political purposes, and this is an example of that,” said Andrew S. Smith, executive director of the Kentucky Environmental Council.
A spokesman for the governor, Brian Hart, said the governor does not support repealing the rule.
“There is no such thing as a water rights issue in Kentucky,” Hart said.
But environmentalists say the rule was necessary to limit the water that cities and other towns used for their own uses.
A coalition of Kentucky conservation groups, called the Kentucky Conservation Alliance, has lobbied to keep the rule in place.
It is also working to get the rule repealed.
The coalition, made up of local groups, is working to raise awareness about the rule so that people can understand what it does and to educate lawmakers on how to repeal it.
The group’s president, Tom Gorman, said people can be frustrated by the repeal because it comes at the expense of conservation.
But it’s not a fight about water, he said.
“It’s a fight to protect the environment.”
Gorman said he’s concerned about the effect that the repeal could have on Kentucky’s ability to protect its groundwater, which is the main source of drinking water for rural areas.
The Kentucky Conservation Association has filed a lawsuit to have the rule overturned, arguing that it is unconstitutional and unconstitutional because it is a burden on local governments to limit their water use.
It also argues that the elimination of the water restrictions is not consistent with Kentucky’s environmental protection laws.
In 2016, the state legislature repealed the rule by a vote of 39-5.
The legislature has also passed several water conservation bills in recent years, including one that would give cities and county governments the right to impose restrictions on how much water they use and allow them to limit water use to 50 percent of the maximum amount that can be used.
The new rule requires local governments that do not have water conservation laws to adopt new rules and enforce those rules.
But environmental advocates argue that the rules should be repealed so that local governments have more control over water use and the amount of it that they use.
“The real issue here is whether the rule really is necessary,” said Jennifer Smith, a senior staff attorney with the Sierra Club of Kentucky.
Smith is concerned that the current water conservation rules are too burdensome for rural communities.
“You need to give people the ability to make their own decisions,” she said.