50 Years of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act

Written by NWNL Project Manager, Sarah Kearns
with Research by Jenna Petrone

An unspoiled river is a very rare thing in this Nation today. Their flow and vitality have been harnessed by dams and too often they have been turned into open sewers by communities and by industries. It makes us all very fearful that all rivers will go this way unless somebody acts now to try to balance our river development.” — Lyndon B. Johnson, on signing the US Wild & Scenic Rivers Act in 1968.1

Jones_171027_OR_6986McKenzie River, Oregon, Columbia River Basin

On October 2 this year, the US will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act established to preserve rivers with outstanding natural, cultural and recreational values in their free-flowing condition for the enjoyment of present and future generations.2

At the time of enactment in 1968, eight rivers were given the designation of Wild & Scenic Rivers: Clearwater, Eleven Point, Feather, Rio Grande, Rogue, St. Croix, Salmon, and Wolf. As of December 2014, this National System, under the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management, protects 12,734 miles of 208 rivers in 40 states and Puerto Rico. The total mileage of this system represents about .35% of US rivers, compared to the 17% of US rivers totaling 600,000 miles, that are currently dammed or modified by 75,000 large dams.3

While .35% is a shockingly small percentage, the official anniversary website reminds us to celebrate the Act’s accomplishments over the past fifty years. The growth from protecting only 8 rivers to protecting 208 rivers spanning 12,000 miles is a huge accomplishment. We encourage all to celebrate in order to look positively to the future when another 12,000 miles could be designated!

Jones_170617_NE_5263Missouri River, Nebraska, Mississippi River Basin

What exactly is a “Wild & Scenic River?”

Under this Act, Congress can designate a river under one of three classifications: wild, scenic, or recreational. A designated river can be a segment or stretch of a river, not only its entire length, and can also include tributaries. 

How does a river get classified?

“Wild” River Classification: Rivers (or sections of rivers) that are “free of impoundments and generally inaccessible except by trail, with watersheds or shorelines essentially primitive and waters unpolluted.”

“Scenic” River Classification: Rivers (or sections of rivers) that are “free of impoundments, with shorelines or watersheds still largely primitive and shorelines largely undeveloped, but accessible in places by roads.”

“Recreational” River Classification: Rivers (or sections of rivers) that are “readily accessible by road or railroad, that may have some development along their shorelines, and that may have undergone some impoundment or diversion in the past.”4

Jones_140510_WA_0743Snake River, Washington, Columbia River Basin

It is important to note that the type of classification doesn’t change the type of protection each river or segment receives! All rivers/segments designated under the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act are administered with the goal of protecting and enhancing the values that caused it to be designated to begin with. This protection is administered by federal or state agencies, which is provided through voluntary stewardship.5

Of the 208 rivers & river segments, 23 are located in NWNL’s US Case-Study Watersheds and Spotlights:  Columbia River Basin, Mississippi River Basin and California. Between now and the official October 2 anniversary, we will post several more blogs with photographs of many of these designated rivers.

Jones_160927_CA_6002Merced River, California

How can you celebrate?  NWNL encourages everyone to support all of our rivers and freshwater waterways, particularly the ones protected under the Wild & Scenic Rivers Acts. Swim in your local recreational river; go boating; organize a “Bioblitz;” join your local river stewardship organization; and most importantly, talk to your friends and families about why our river are so vital to our country!  This interactive story map shows whether you live near a designated river or river segment! For more information about 50th Anniversary events, view the official National Wild and Scenic Rivers System toolkit.

USA: Wisconsin, Upper Mississippi River Basin and St Croix River Basin,St Croix River, Wisconsin, Mississippi River Basin

Sources

1http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=29150
2https://www.nps.gov/orgs/1912/index.htm
3https://www.rivers.gov/wsr-act.php
4https://www.rivers.gov/wsr-act.php
5https://www.rivers.gov/wsr-act.php

All photos © Alison M. Jones.

Dakota Pipeline – A Cautionary Tale

Native American tribes and others from all over the country have joined the Standing Rock Sioux to protest the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline [DAPL]. The proposed pipeline would cross 4 states carrying natural gas extracted via horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing [aka fracking] from North Dakota Bakken Oil Fields to Illinois. The complaints focus on the traditional values of our rivers, which we shouldn’t belittle. Our rivers provide sustenance (fish and medicinal plants), clean water to drink, and a spiritual and cultural refuge.

The specific concerns about this 1,172-mile pipeline begin with DAPL’s construction methods that would violate Sioux treaty agreements and desecrate their sacred areas. Once constructed, any leakage from the 30”diameter pipe (just under 3 feet of soil mostly) would threaten contamination within a large 4-state swath of the Missouri River Basin. Ruptures or spills could contaminate agricultural areas, roads, rivers, lakes and streams.  In arid areas damage to groundwater resources would be devastating.

The Native Tribes protesting at Standing Rock are getting the most media attention on this issue – especially those on horseback. Yet they certainly aren’t the only ones who would be affected by a DALP environmental catastrophe. The global issue is that there will eventually be greenhouse gas emissions from this oil, increasing everyone’s vulnerability to global impacts of climate change – floods, droughts, increased severe weather events, and sea level rise.

The local issue is that the Dakota Access pipeline will would carry 570,000 barrels of oil per day across 50 counties of North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois.  It will cross under two tributaries to the Mississippi River: The Des Moines River and the Missouri River.

screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-5-02-25-pm

Too frequently there are pipeline spills. The Riverkeepers website addresses the risks of transporting crude oil with an annotated list of recent crude oil pipeline ruptures and spills.

RECENT NOTABLE CRUDE OIL PIPELINE ruptures and spills

April 2016 Freeman SD 
A spill of 16,800 gallons of tar sand oil

May 2015  –   Santa Barbara CA
143,000 galloons of crude oil released, and 21,000 spilled into Pacific Ocean

Jan 2015  – Yellowstone River MT
Drinking water contaminated by 31,000 gals of oil spilled into frozen river

Dec 2014  Belton SC
Over 300,000 gallons of gasoline spilled

Oct. 2014 – Caddo Parisih LA
Pipeline killed wildlife as it spilled over 4,000 barrels of crude

Oct. 2013 – Smithville T
Pipeline spilled 17,000 gallons of crude oil

Sept. 2013  –   Tioga, ND
Over 20,000 barrels crude oil leaked into a wheat field

Mar. 2013 – Mayflower ARK
Rupture of 100’s of 1000’s of gallons of heavy crude into neighborhoods

Jul. 2010  – Kalamazoo River MI
Rupture oiled 40 miles of river with heavy crude bitumin

If an accident like any of the above were to occur along the DAPL, it could affect the Missouri River or any of its tributaries along the route. These streams provide a resource upon which 18 million people depend upon for clean drinking water.  A spill could also impact crops, prairie habitat and residential communities.

The fracking that produces the crude oil to be carried by DAPL releases less greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than burning coal – however, the use of natural gas puts much more CO2 into our atmosphere than other new sustainable energy sources. NWNL urges the implementation of renewable, sustainable green energy like solar panels, wind powered turbines, and wave energy.

Solving the negative impacts of this oil pipeline at this late date is problematic.  It is unfortunate that in this century business and governmental decisions are too often made without enough honest and transparent risk analysis.  We should listen more to the Native Americans protesting this pipeline who come from a heritage of analyzing impacts seven generations in the future before committing to risky ventures.

A ruling on the Sioux’s lawsuit with the Army Core of Engineers is expected to come out today. NWNL hopes it will be one small step in resolving the ongoing controversy over big oil and environmental conservation.