Oregon Waterway Access Bill Set to Become Law
This week, Oregon House Bill 2835 re-passed the Oregon House on a 52-7 vote. Having earlier cleared the Senate, the bill now awaits a signature from the Governor to be signed into law. For decades, opportunities to protect and improve the ability of the public to access and legally use waterways for recreation have seen minimal progress, while efforts to severely limit access have been a consistent threat. Oregon House Bill 2835 is a pivotal piece of legislation in Oregon, and the first proactive waterway access bill in recent history to have made it through the state legislature.
Oregon is a state renowned for its plentiful water supplies and outstanding recreation opportunities on its public waterways. The abundance of outstanding river resources is a reason why people continue to live, work, recreate, and travel to the state. Protecting rivers and access to them is important to conservation and recreation, given the ties to strong local economies and community health.
Thomas O'Keefe is the Pacific Northwest Stewardship Director for American Whitewater, which is the primary advocate for the protection and restoration of whitewater rivers across the county, who says:
"It is core to our mission to ensure that the public can continue to access rivers safely, and HB 2835 ensures the public the ability to continue to enjoy the rivers in Oregon."
"The Marine Board recognizes the importance of, and the intentional effort it takes to improve and protect, public access to the water. HB 2835 will enhance Oregon's public access to the water for current and future generations."
- Larry Warren, Director, Oregon State Marine Board
In the past, access closures on state lands could be made administratively and quietly - with no opportunity for the public to provide input or contest them. Oregon House Bill 2835 requires that for any future closures to waterway access on state lands, the decision must now undergo a public process - allowing the opportunity for paddlers, and groups like American Whitewater to provide input on proposed closures.
"This bill encourages unified thinking and cooperation among agencies that provide access to public waterways, which may protect and improve existing waterway access."
-Chris Havel, Associate Director, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department
The legislation also enhances public access to waterways by incorporating a feasibility assessment for waterway access as part of any new state bridge construction or reconstruction projects. Other states including Washington, California, Virginia, and Maryland have adopted similar laws and policies, and given the importance of water-based recreation to the citizens of our state, it was time for Oregon to do the same.
Finally, the bill now requires that state agencies work in cooperation to produce a report each year that is available to the public, reporting the number of waterway access sites that have been closed to access by state agencies in the previous calendar year and the reasons for each closure. This report will also inventory newly-opened sites providing access to public waterways, thus creating a running inventory of public access sites to waterways in the state.
"This creates a way to protect existing access and be proactive in planning for future public access to waterways in Oregon. It's monumental."
- Sam Drevo, Oregon Guide and Outfitter, Owner eNRG Kayaking
Preservation of access to public waterways in Oregon is a vital part of the outdoor recreation economy, and a love for rivers is a value that is deeply embedded in the history and identity of our state. Rivers offer unique opportunities for residents and visitors alike to boat, hike, fish, enjoy wildlife, and treasure our state's incredible natural resources.
Waterway access is a difficult issue, and although it's almost universally supported by Oregonians, it can often lead to conflict with other values that Oregonians hold dear. American Whitewater, is a member of Oregon Outdoors Coalition, and is happy to have supported coalition efforts of coalition lobbyists Erik Kancler and Priscilla Macy, who navigated a delicate political climate around the issue and have endeavored to find the most collaborative pathway forward for this issue, through numerous conversations with a wide array of stakeholder groups including state agencies, private landowners, and local governments and parks districts. We also greatly appreciate the leadership of Representative Helm (OR-34) who agreed to champion this effort.
American Whitewater has been involved in access legislation in Oregon since the early 2000's, and has been a primary advocate to attest that Oregon's rivers provide a high quality of life for its citizens as well as serve a vital part of the state's tourism industry. We are proud to have been a part of crafting a meaningful and proactive waterway access bill that has both strong support and no known opposition and we are enthusiastic to continue advocating and attesting that Oregon's rivers provide a high quality of life for its citizens as well as serve a vital part of the state's tourism industry.
Thomas O'Keefe is the Pacific Northwest Stewardship Director for American Whitewater, which is the primary advocate for the protection and restoration of whitewater rivers across the county, who says: "It is core to our mission to ensure that the public can continue to access rivers safely, and HB 2835 ensures the public the ability to continue to enjoy the rivers in Oregon."