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John Day River Found Navigable! (OR)

Posted: 06/16/2005
by Thomas O'Keefe

Earlier this week the Oregon State Land Board declared the John Day River a state-owned navigable waterway (from Kimberly at river mile184 to Tumwater Falls at river mile 10). With this decision the Land Board concluded that the public owns the beds and banks up to the ordinary high water mark (see full report). Secretary of State Bill Bradbury and Governor Ted Kulongoski both supported the determination but acknowledged a need for a broader statewide solution. Treasurer Randall Edwards abstained from the vote and continued to press for delay on the decision to give the legislature more time to work with Senate Bill 1028.

Given the scrutiny this river will see it is very important that those recreating on the John Day follow Leave No Trace practices and practice good stewardship. With public rights come responsibilities and those supporting restrictions on public use of Oregon's rivers have cited littering and damage to private land along the river as reasons to limit public rights to the state's waterways.

While this week's news affects the John Day, it comes in the context of a broader fight over the public's right to use Oregon's rivers that continues in the state legislature in the form of Senate Bill 1028. This bill continues to move through the Senate (next stop, Budget Committee) and although it has high profile support among lawmakers it does not meet the public need (in fact supporters of this bill have been hard to find as recreational users and landowners have registered serious concerns). While on the surface the bill would grant public access to most of Oregon's floatable rivers, it would create a new bureaucratic process that would dictate the time, manner, type, and extent of recreational use on public waterways. To fund the infrastructure required for this new process, Senate Bill 1028 proposes institution of a new fee structure for watercraft registration. In other words the public would be funding a process that would lead to the creation of new regulations limiting public use of Oregon's waterways.

At this point continued public pressure is required to prevent supporters of Senate Bill 1028 from using the John Day navigability determination as leverage to support their "solution" to ongoing navigability issues in the state (see Action Alert). Individual paddlers have an opportunity to make their voice heard and influence the outcome of the debate over Senate Bill 1028. As long as this remains a low profile issue with the public the bill will continue on its current course of moving through the Senate, but if Senators start hearing from the public that will likely change.

Associated Projects

Oregon Navigability
AW works to keep the rivers of Oregon open and accessible to the boating public.