Top 3 Wild and Scenic Rivers After 50 Years of Federal Protection

Do competing interests at the federal, state and local levels threaten the 50-year old Wild and Scenic Rivers Act?

America’s Wild and Scenic Rivers are fisheries and recreation resources, as well drinking water sources for millions of Americans. Various federal and state agencies are charged with overseeing the water quality of these federal rivers. The individual designations under the 1968 Wild and Scenic Rivers Act often name state environmental agencies to protect the federal river system's water quality.

This week, California passed state legislation (AB 2975) that would require the California Natural Resources Agency Secretary to hold a public meeting if there are federal legislative changes that would alter the protections of the Merced River and others currently protected by the federal law. The secretary has the latitude under the policy to add the rivers to the state's wild and scenic rivers system, according to the organization Friends of the River.

The San Joaquin Valley Water Infrastructure Authority and others were opposed to the measure, according to California Ag Today.

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The United States is approaching the 50-year anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, and to celebrate, the U.S. Department of the Interior highlighted 15 conserved river segments to promote awareness. There are 208 river segments in 40 states that are part of this free-flowing water system protected by the federal law throughout the last five decades.

The top three on their list offer protected opportunities like hiking, fishing, canoeing, camping and more -- but they also have government management plans that attempt to balance their protection with competing uses.

#1 Rogue River, Oregon

The Rogue's headwaters start on the west slopes of the peaks surrounding Crater Lake in Oregon and twist and descend for 215 miles through the Cascade, Siskiyou and Coastal Ranges before spilling into the Pacific at Gold Beach.

In the Rogue River Component of the Master Management Plan, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality was charged with overseeing its water quality.

In 2011, suffering water quality in two major areas led to development of a DEQ Rogue Basin Action Plan. "There are currently 48 streams or sections of streams identified as impaired for fecal coliform bacteria. Analysis indicates that 98 percent of the bacteria in Bear Creek and 96 percent of the bacteria in the Rogue River are due to nonpoint sources of pollution including: runoff from streets, lawns, agricultural lands and others."

More than 250 public water systems rely on the Rogue Basin's surface and groundwaters.

Image: Bureau of Land Management
Image: Bureau of Land Management
#2 Bruneau River, Idaho

The Bureau of Land Management manages approximately 40 miles of the Bruneau River, which runs from the Bruneau-Jarbidge Wilderness to its upstream confluence with its West Fork.

In 2013, the Idaho DEQ established the Bruneau River Watershed Agricultural TMDL Implementation Plan for nearby agricultural lands in order to control total phosphorus concentration and reduce algal blooms, which threaten oxygen levels vital to water quality.

Image: Bureau of Land Management
Image: Bureau of Land Management
#3 Merced River, California

Starting as ice and snow melt in the high Sierra Mountains, then pouring over granite waterfalls before and running through the Yosemite Valley, the Merced River in California makes a headlong rush with class III and IV whitewater rapids enjoyed by rafters and kayakers. Enjoy spring wildflowers along the lower canyon.

In 2014, the Merced Wild and Scenic River Final Comprehensive Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement became the guiding document to protect and enhance river use and management through 2034. The plan was created in part to direct land uses and public facilities and services.

The Merced like other rivers in California, are important to local irrigation districts that provide water for agriculture and power as well as other competing uses in a state known for drought and water fights that extend beyond its borders. The State Water Resources Control Board is also charged to manage water resources and associated habitats  -- creating plans like the Bay-Delta Plan Update: Lower San Joaquin River and Southern Delta, which the Association of California Water Agencies does not support.

Image: Bureau of Land Management
Image: Bureau of Land Management

Access the U.S. Department of Interiors complete list

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