States to have say on 'blueways' designation for watersheds

Posted: Apr 11, 2013

Written by

Scott Streater, E&E
Yellowstone River

Wyoming congressional leaders praised outgoing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar today for committing to obtain state support before designating watersheds into the National Blueways System program he unveiled last year.

Wyoming Republican Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso and Rep. Cynthia Lummis have been critical of the new program established by secretarial order in May 2012 that recognizes large river systems and strives to coordinate local conservation and restoration efforts that focus on managing the entire watershed.

Though Interior officials have been clear the initiative does not involve any new regulations and is meant to help establish multistate partnerships among conservation and management groups, the three Wyoming leaders in February joined 22 other members of the conservative Western Caucus in signing a letter to Salazar demanding he withdraw his order. The Western leaders fear the new program would step on states' rights to manage their waterways, and in some cases infringe on private property rights (Greenwire, Feb. 15).

But Salazar said in a two-page letter sent to Lummis that Interior would not designate any watersheds into the blueways system without first receiving a letter of support from any state or states where the watershed is located.

Salazar wrote that "successful nominations" of watersheds to be included in the blueways system "will include statements of support from businesses, organizations, Federal and state agencies, and local tribal governments within the watershed."

He added that Interior "is committed to a National Blueway nomination process that will require the recruitment of a state sponsoring agency. If a nominated river and its watershed include land in more than one state, the nomination process will also require a letter of support from states with a significant portion of the watershed within their borders."

To date, only the Connecticut River watershed, which includes portions of Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts, and the White River watershed in Arkansas have been designated into the National Blueways System.

Salazar's letter drew praise today from Lummis, Barrasso and Enzi, who said the issue is really about GOP leaders' distrust of Obama administration land-use policies. Wyoming leaders had grown concerned after Interior officials late last year floated the idea of adding the Yellowstone River into the blueways system.

"Wyoming has learned over the years that when the federal government wants to designate something there are always strings attached," Enzi said today in a statement. He added that he appreciates "Salazar's commitment to letting Wyoming manage its own water."

Lummis echoed Enzi's comments.

"The use of Secretarial Orders to push new land or water designations is inappropriate in and of itself, but Secretary Salazar's commitment to requiring state approval is a good first step," she said in a statement. "What may seem like a harmless federal designation today could have significant impacts down the road on water rights, responsible development, and locally-determined conservation efforts. The Secretary's commitment, if honored by his successors, will ensure Wyoming has final say over whether we allow the Blueways designation within our borders."

Barrasso said the Wyoming congressional delegation will be watching to ensure Interior honors Salazar's commitment after he leaves office in the coming weeks.

"While I appreciate his response, the Secretarial Order as written still circumvents Congress and allows federal agencies to nominate areas for designation," he said in a statement. "We plan to hold future Interior Department officials to Secretary Salazar's criteria."

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