The Clean Water Restoration Act came out of committee last week without a whole lot of fanfare. However, it sure sent shockwaves through the cattle industry and others likely to be directly affected by this bill.

The big change was a simple little amendment that removed the word “navigable” in front of the word “water.” That opened up the ability for the federal government to begin to regulate any water, perhaps even as minor as stock tanks, drainage ditches and ponds. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) called it “the largest federal land grab in history.”

It almost seems absurd at first blush that this legislation would have a chance of passing, but private property rights ever since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo v. City of New London largely exist only as a bedrock of capitalism in our minds and in history books.

As you might recall, that June 2005 decision (by a 5-4 vote) meant that local government can force property owners to sell out to other private owners. Previously such eminent domain determinations were made only for “public use” projects like roads and bridges, or land for schools and parks. With this ruling, “public use” was broadened to give local government the wink to redistribute private property – with compensation – if the government decides it's a good deal for – well, itself.

The nationalization of large segments of our economy, and the proposal to either nationalize or super-regulate other segments haven’t caused more than a few singular voices to be raised in concern. The political winds are such that these moves away from capitalism and free enterprise aren’t merely tolerated but actually welcomed.

Many would argue that much of these fundamental changes were included in the stimulus package, and nobody knew it was there (heck, our politicians didn’t even bother to read it). Or, that there are bigger issues to worry about and all of this is happening at the periphery.

I reject such claims. Sure, most of the ramifications of the Troubled Asset Relief Program weren’t understood, but when NCBA is almost singular in its concern about the federal government usurping state and private property rights by taking control of all water, I think the signs are ominous for the huge expansion of the federal government that’s coming.