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Pending Legislation Threatens Wild and Scenic Rivers

Posted: 09/08/2011
by Megan Hooker

The national Wild and Scenic Rivers System protects free flowing rivers throughout the country with outstandingly remarkable values. Since the Wild and Scenic Rivers system was established in 1968, American Whitewater has advocated for the responsible management of these rivers, and worked to protect and preserve the recreational, wildlife, scenic, geologic, historical and cultural values of these special rivers.

The inherent values of free-flowing Wild and Scenic Rivers are currently under threat by several pieces of legislation in Congress - HR850/S1134, HR 869, HR 2578, and HR 2060. These bills directly target Wild and Scenic protections currently in place for three rivers that are part of the system, and threaten to undermine the integrity of the Wild and Scenic Rivers System overall by opening the door to development.  

The proposed legislation includes: 

St. Croix River, MN and WI- H.R. 850/S. 1134

The St. Croix River is one of the original Wild and Scenic Rivers designated in 1968.  This legislation would allow a new freeway style bridge to be built over the St. Croix Scenic Riverway in place of a more modest two-lane bridge. The current bridge is in need of replacement - and while bridges on Wild and Scenic Rivers are routinely replaced, the proposal for a $700 million highway represents a construction project of an unprecedented scale on a designated river. After careful review, the National Park Service determined a project of this scope would be inconsistent with the outstanding values for which the river was designated.

Merced River, CA- H.R. 869 and H.R. 2578

 The Wild and Scenic Merced River, located in the central Sierra Nevadas, is feeling the pressure to increase the water supply for irrigation for the San Joaquin Valley. The Merced Irrigation District seeks to increase the carrying capacity of Lake McClure behind New Exchequer Dam, which will push reservoir levels into the Wild and Scenic reach of the river.If passed, this bill would be the first time in history that Congress has reversed course to allow a reservoir to flood a stretch of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.

Crooked River, OR- H.R. 2060

This legislation would modify the boundary for the Crooked Wild and Scenic River in Central Oregon to permit hydropower development at Bowman Dam. This Bureau of Reclamation Dam currently does not have hydropower. Because the boundary of the Wild and Scenic River extends to the dam and because FERC can not license a hydropower project on a Wild and Scenic River, a boundary adjustment is required to initiate the hydropower licensing process. While American Whitewater supports the development of hydropower on existing federal facilities as an alternative to building new destructive dams, the current legislation misses a vital opportunity to improve the management of this Wild and Scenic River for the benefit of people, fish and wildlife. Adequate water needs to be allocated to protect the fish, wildlife, and downstream recreation resources of this river.

These bills are currently pending before Congress and now is a critical time.  We encourage you to reach out to your legislator and join the conversation.     


Associated Rivers