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Washington State’s First Outstanding Resource Waters Designated

Posted: 12/18/2023
By: Thomas O'Keefe

Today the Washington State Department of Ecology announced the state’s first Outstanding Resource Waters that will protect segments of the Cascade (Skagit County), Green (Skamania County), and Napeequa (Chelan County) River systems for future generations to enjoy. Outstanding resource waters are identified as having exceptional water quality, ecological and recreational values, or unique attributes that distinguish them among state waterbodies and warrant special protection. Outstanding Resource Waters have the highest level of protection assigned to a waterbody under the Tier III Antidegradation rule in Washington's water quality standards.

The outdoor recreation community, including whitewater paddlers and our business partners, actively participated in a two year process where Ecology solicited comments and feedback from interested community members: 

* In July 2021, the agency highlighted an initial 30-day opportunity for public comment as part of its Triennial Review. 

* Due to the strong local support for this process, in August 2022, the agency announced that it would pursue Outstanding Resource Water designations for the river systems.  

* For over a year, Ecology held webinars and reached out to Tribes, local elected officials, and surrounding communities for feedback on the proposal. 

* On July 18, 2023, the agency initiated a rulemaking which included four public hearings and a 70-day public comment period.

* On December 18, 2023 Ecology issued a rule adoption notice to designate these rivers as Tier III(A) Outstanding Resource Waters under the Clean Water Act.

In a meaningful step to creating a more inclusive and just public process for future water quality policymaking in the state, as part of the new rule Ecology is expanding Tribal consultation requirements to include all Tribes in the state. This change will create space for greater Tribal involvement and opportunity for elevating Tribal interests and values in regulatory decisions moving forward.

The Rivers

Cascade River

The Cascade River is a  major tributary of the Skagit River and contributes to one of the most productive strongholds of salmon, steelhead and bull trout in Puget Sound and provides 30 percent of the freshwater that feeds into Puget Sound. As a source of freshwater and chinook salmon, the Cascade is crucial in aiding the recovery of the endangered Southern Resident Orca Whale population.

The Cascade, designated Wild and Scenic in 1978 as part of the Skagit Wild and Scenic River system, is also known as a spectacular whitewater resource flowing through a beautiful forest setting with challenging class V whitewater.

Additionally, the City of Anacortes’ drinking water comes from the Skagit River (which is fed by the Cascade). Local communities eat salmon caught in the Cascade River and swim, recreate, and earn a living from the river and its tributaries.

Green River

The Green River, a main tributary of the North Fork Toutle River in the Cowlitz River Basin, is a shining example of landscape recovery and ecosystem resilience, having rebounded since the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. It is an eligible Wild and Scenic River, a state designated gene bank for wild steelhead, and provides excellent and important spawning habitat for endangered salmon. The Green River Valley is prized by locals and tourists alike for its recreational opportunities, including the popular Green River Horse Camp, the Goat Mountain Trail, and the Green River Trail that is a regional destination for mountain biking.

Napeequa River

The Napeequa River is notable for its geologic history and features. Because the Napeequa carves through a narrow, rugged canyon, a variety of ecosystems coexist—glaciers, alpine forests, old-growth forests, meadows, wetlands, and river frontage all sit side-by-side. Due to its remoteness, the river has not been impacted by centuries of human development. Its cold, pristine waters provide critical habitat for species, such as endangered Spring chinook and threatened bull trout. Both the White River and Lake Wenatchee rely on critical inputs from the Napeequa as a major tributary to provide high-quality water and habitat for downstream salmon and trout. The abundance and diversity of species present in the area underline the vital interconnectedness of the river systems. With no trails along the river, the landscape is a remote backcountry destination only explored by a handful of individuals but it is among the major tributaries of that provide the flows for the Wenatchee River that fuel the kayaking and rafting opportunities every spring.

Public Notice of Designation:


Thomas O'Keefe

3537 NE 87th St.

Seattle, WA 98115

Phone: 425-417-9012
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