The Bush administration took steps yesterday to delay moving forward with a Clinton-era rule to improve water quality in more than 20,000 lakes, ponds, streams, and rivers across the country. The rule, issued in June 2000, requires states to determine the total maximum daily loads of pollution that bodies of water can handle and make plans to decrease pollution accordingly. Critics like the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Cattleman’s Beef Association say the rule could cost businesses billions of dollars annually, and they have sued to prevent it from being implemented. The U.S. EPA asked a federal court to postpone action on the legal challenge for 18 months, while it attempted to make the rule more acceptable to critics.