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Action Alert! Support Protection of Access to Public Waterways in Oregon

Posted: 02/21/2019
by Priscilla Macy

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, as it ties to strong local economies and community health. Right now there is a bill in the Oregon House that will improve and protect our access to rivers across the state. If the ability to access and safely navigate rivers in Oregon is important to you, please take a moment and use our easy action form and contact your Oregon State representative in support of this new legislation. 
In the 2018-2022 Oregon Statewide Comprehensive Recreation Plan (SCORP), public access to waterways was ranked as a top need for Oregonians both inside and outside of their communities. Protecting rivers and the public’s right to access public waterways is increasingly important today. Many of our most iconic fish and wildlife species are dependent on rivers, and opportunities to enjoy healthy rivers directly support Oregon's growing $16.4 billion dollar outdoor recreation economy. An industry that sustains 172,000 jobs, $5.1 billion in wages and salaries, and $749 million in local and state tax revenues - nearly three times the jobs (172,000) as the wood products industry (58,000) in Oregon. 
Though Oregon has over 1.5 million acres of public waterway and 110,000 miles of river, only around 1,238 miles of river in the state are determined to be navigable for title purposes, which is an arduous process decided in federal courts, and a process which often does not reflect current uses of waterways for recreation. This means that, if a water is not determined to be navigable for title purposes, access for recreation, even from some public lands, is not always protected or permitted in Oregon . For paddlers this means that even though you may legally float any waterway in Oregon that is capable of supporting recreation, you may only have limited rights to access and safely navigate rivers that have not been designated as navigable. 
Oregon House Bill 2835 seeks to protect waterways access in the state in a few ways. In Oregon, there is currently no required public process for public waterway access closures, so the legislation creates a process where public land and waterway agencies would be required to engage in a public review process for any public waterway access closures greater than 30 days in length, which would  include an analysis of potential economic, social, cultural and environmental impacts of the proposed public access closure. Exceptions are made for emergencies such as wildfire and for critical wildlife and ecological management activities.  The legislation also seeks to preserve existing public access points from state-owned land and at public right of ways on publicly owned roads.  Lastly, the legislation seeks to enhance public access to public waterways by incorporating a feasibility assessment for waterway access integration into new state bridge construction or reconstruction projects.  This would not require the retroactive review of existing state bridges, nor require a state agency to fund the construction of access to a waterway.  The proposed legislation incorporates best practices from similar laws in Montana, Washington, California, and Wisconsin.
Public lands and waterways are the backbone of our rapidly growing outdoor industry, and without access to these resources, the industry could not thrive as it does today. Communities across Oregon recognize that outdoor recreation supports health, contributes to a high quality of life and—perhaps most importantly—attracts and sustains employers and families. Investing in outdoor infrastructure and access attracts employers and active workforces, ensuring that those communities thrive economically and socially.
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 states incredible natural resources. 
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.
If you live in Oregon, take action today and let your state representatives know that you support continued access to your public waterways! 
Thomas O'Keefe
3537 NE 87th St.
Seattle, WA 98115
Phone: 425-417-9012