What is the Wood-Pawcatuck Wild and Scenic Rivers Study?
The Wood-Pawcatuck Wild and Scenic Rivers Study, which Congress authorized in December 2014, directs the National Park Service (NPS) and a local committee comprised of town-appointed members from the watershed communities to consider whether the Beaver, Chipuxet, Green Falls, Pawcatuck, Queen, Shunock, and Wood Rivers are eligible and suitable for inclusion in the National Wild and Scenic River System. One of the Study objectives will be a locally developed watershed stewardship plan to guide river conservation that communities can voluntarily implement. The Study is funded by NPS.
What is the National Wild and Scenic River System?
Under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, enacted by Congress is 1968, a river that possesses outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geological, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural, or other similar values can be designated into the National Wild and Scenic River System to preserve the river and its special values for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations. As of December 2014 (the last designation), there are 209 Wild and Scenic Rivers in the National System, totaling 12,709 miles in 40 US states and Puerto Rico. A subset called Partnership Wild and Scenic Rivers are designated rivers that flow through privately owned lands, not federally owned lands. Working in partnership with the National Park Service, communities protect their own outstanding river and river-related resources.
What are the benefits of Wild and Scenic River designation?
- Documents the unique values of the river, including its history
- Gives national recognition to local rivers
- Helps protect locally important watershed resources
- Assures local voice in managing resources
- Highlights the river’s role in establishing a strong sense of place for the region
- Provides capacity and structure to work at a watershed scale
- Provides access to National Park Service funding and expertise to implement a locally-developed watershed stewardship plan
What is a Partnership Wild and Scenic River?
Partnership Wild and Scenic Rivers predominantly flow through private, municipal, or state lands, with little or no federal land ownership. Partnership Wild and Scenic Rivers are administered by the Secretary of the Interior through the National Park Service (NPS) in partnership with local governments, councils, and non-governmental organizations. Communities protect their Partnership Wild and Scenic Rivers and related resources through a collaborative approach, often supported by cooperative agreements with the NPS.
What are the features of a Partnership Wild and Scenic River?
- River and land use management continues to be governed by existing local and state laws and regulations, the same as prior to designation
- An advisory stewardship plan, which is locally developed through a participatory process and approved by watershed communities, guides river conservation actions
- No federal land ownership or land management is associated with the designation
- Stewardship is through a local advisory committee consisting of members from the watershed communities, local partner organizations, and state and federal agencies
- Wild and Scenic Rivers status, with the help of NPS funding, encourages additional federal, state, local, and private funding to implement the local stewardship plan
- NPS reviews potential water resource projects to protect the river’s outstanding resources
What doesn’t a Partnership Wild and Scenic River designation do?
- Does not put land under federal control
- Does not require public access to private land
- Does not force any changes in local land-use decision-making
- Does not create new federal permits or regulations
- Does not change any existing land uses
- Does not bar access to or use of the river or watershed lands
- Does not affect hunting and fishing laws
How would designation affect my property if I own land on the river or in the watershed?
Local land use and property ownership is unaffected; existing state and local regulations that affect land use and development remain in effect. Regular community processes for adopting, implementing, and enforcing land use ordinances are followed, regardless of river designation and watershed management plan adoption.
What will the Stewardship Plan include?
The Stewardship Plan, prepared by local towns collaborating with regional experts and drawing from extensive community input, will include the entire Wood-Pawcatuck watershed. It will document watershed resources (natural, cultural, historic, recreational and scenic), water quality, and economic values, and will identify voluntary actions and strategies to protect or enhance resources that are valued by the watershed communities. The watershed stewardship plan will characterize threats and potential impacts to resources and include recommendations to preserve resources for present and future generations.
What happens when the Study and Stewardship Plan are complete?
Each watershed community will decide on whether to support petitioning Congress that the rivers of the Wood-Pawcatuck watershed be designated as a Partnership Wild and Scenic River. The National Park Service, with assistance from the Study Committee, will prepare and submit to Congress a Study Report that presents findings about the qualities making the rivers of the Wood-Pawcatuck watershed eligible (or ineligible) for designation and the level of community support for designation as a Partnership Wild and Scenic River under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Congress may then enact legislation designating the rivers of the Wood-Pawcatuck watershed into the National System. Each watershed community will also consider whether and how to adopt the locally-developed watershed stewardship plan. Regardless of the river designation decision by communities or Congress, the stewardship plan has value as a coordinated plan of action to protect important watershed resources.
What financial or other obligations are required of towns by supporting river designation?
The first step in supporting river designation is development and community adoption of a watershed stewardship plan, which includes recommendations intended to protect or enhance resources and water quality. No financial commitment is required from communities to support river designation or to adopt a stewardship plan. If a river is designated, each town supporting designation would appoint members to serve on a local advisory committee (similar in structure to the current Study Committee) that would coordinate future stewardship plan implementation projects and raise awareness of river values.
What are some nearby examples of designated Wild and Scenic Rivers?
Eightmile River (CT), Lamprey River (NH), Tauton, Sudbury, Assabet and Concord rivers (MA), and Upper Missisquoi and Trout rivers (VT). For a complete list, visit www.rivers.gov
How do I find out more information?
More information is available on the Wood-Pawcatuck Wild and Scenic Rivers Study Committee’s website: www.WPWildRivers.org. Questions and comments can be emailed to the Study Coordinator at WPWildRivers@wpwa.org.