Wild & Scenic Designation: Frequently Asked Questions
The Housatonic River Commission (HRC) is pursuing the designation of the Housatonic River (from the Connecticut – Massachusetts border to Boardman’s Bridge in New Milford) as a Wild and Scenic River through the locally initiated 2(a)(ii)process. This section was found by the National Parks Service to be worthy of Wild and Scenic Designation in the late 1970s.
4 major reasons to support Wild and Scenic Designation for the Housatonic River:
- to enable HRC to more effectively protect the River and implement the Housatonic River Management Plan,
- to gain wider recognition of the unique nature of the Housatonic River,
- to prevent Federally funded or permitted projects that are determined to be adverse to the outstanding resource values that make the Housatonic River worthy of Wild & Scenic status, and
- to attract funding for protection and management of the River.
What Wild & Scenic Designation DOES do:
- Makes new resources available to the River Commission to help review projects which require a federal permit (such as Army Corps of Engineers) to make sure that they are done in a way that does not detract from the wild and scenic nature of the river.
- A designated river will remain free flowing although existing dams and obstructions can continue as part of the river system.
- Encourages river management that crosses political boundaries, coordinates efforts, and promotes public participation in developing goals for river protection.
- Reflects national, state and local recognition of the important values inherent in the river, its immediate environment, and its important aquatic role in Northwest Connecticut’s ecosystem.
- Provides the potential for federal funding and leverage opportunities to carry out management, education, investigation (historical as well as ecological) and protection.
What Wild & Scenic Designation DOES NOT do:
- No new permits or regulations are associated with Wild and Scenic 2(a)(ii) designation. Local control still governs; land use remains subject to existing town and state statutes.
- Designation neither prohibits development nor gives the federal government control over private property. There is no federal land acquisition associated with this designation. The Act explicitly prohibits federal land acquisition on Section 2(a)(ii) rivers.
- The wild and scenic designation does not change how the river is used for fishing, boating, swimming or other uses.
Why is it important to pursue Wild & Scenic Designation for the Housatonic River now?
Wild & Scenic designation will enable the HRC to more effectively protect the river and implement the Housatonic River Management Plan. The HRC will create a Housatonic River Coordinating Committee that will include representatives from other organizations whose work impacts the River including State DEEP and National Park Service representatives. The Committee would meet to coordinate their organizations’ efforts, bring resources to the table to implement the River Management Plan, and help solve issues around use of the River and development along it’s banks.
For example, with the recent increase in the frequency of extreme storm events, more projects along the river to channel water or stabilize banks may be proposed. These types of projects could have an adverse impact on the wild & scenic qualities of the river. If the river is designated “ Wild & Scenic”, projects such as these which require a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers will be reviewed to make sure that they are done in a way that does not detract from the wild and scenic nature of the river.
Frequently Asked Questions*
*FAQ Source: Wild & Scenic Westfield River Committee
Q. What are the benefits of federal Wild and Scenic River designation?
A. Federal designation will protect a river from new federally built or permitted dams and other water resource projects (i.e. diversions, channelization) that have an adverse effect on the free-flowing values of the river. Under locally initiated Wild and Scenic designation, there is an emphasis on local control and management. One of the benefits of this honor is that more resources "in the form of technical assistance and grants" are available to the communities along these pristine stretches.
Q. What is a locally initiated National Wild and Scenic River designation?
A. There are two ways a river can become a National Wild and Scenic River. One method is by an Act of Congress. A second method is by a locally initiated National Wild and Scenic River designation. This is the method that the Housatonic River Commission is advocating for. Under Section 2aii of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act (WSRA), communities or states can nominate a river (or parts of a river) to be designated "wild and scenic" by the federal Secretary of Interior.
Q. What is the process for achieving locally initiated National Wild and Scenic River designation?
A. First, a management plan is prepared for the river, describing how communities and state agencies will permanently administer the river as a wild and scenic river. Then, the river must be "designated as a wild, scenic, or recreational river by or pursuant to an act of a State legislature", according to the WSRA. Next, the Governor must make an application to the Secretary of the Interior for federal designation. The Secretary of Interior makes a decision on designation based upon how well the river meets the criteria set out in the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
Q. How does the designation change the way communities use the river?
A. The wild and scenic designation does not change how the river is used for fishing, boating, swimming or other uses. It simply empowers river communities to play a more active role in protecting the river corridor from uses that would degrade its scenic qualities.
Q. Does this designation give the public access to private land?
A. No. This designation does not allow public access over private property. Public access is limited to existing public lands, and land ownership is in no way affected by this designation.
Q. Will there be federal land acquisition?
A. There is no federal land acquisition associated with this designation. The Act explicitly prohibits federal land acquisition on Section 2(a)(ii) rivers.
Q. Will wild and scenic designation prevent all future riverfront development?
A. No. Local communities will still be responsible for planning and regulating new development in accordance with state and local land use laws. The wild and scenic designation will not change this.
Q: Does wild and scenic river designation lead to increased river use?
A: There are no known studies comparing river use levels before and after wild and scenic river designation with changes in use levels of similar non-wild and scenic rivers. Factors other than wild and scenic river designation (i.e., river and water attributes, access to the river, and availability of facilities and commercial services) are considered to be the major influences on river use levels. (source: http://www.rivers.gov)
Q. What effect does Wild and Scenic River designation have on other federally assisted water resources projects?
A. Section 7 of the Act prohibits any department or agency of the United States from assisting in the construction of any water resources project that would have a "direct and adverse" effect on the values for which the river was established. It also precludes federal assistance to projects below/above a designated river that have been determined to invade the area or unreasonably diminish the scenic, recreational, and fish and wildlife values present . . . as of the date of designation. . . . The "direct and adverse" standard applies to projects within the river corridor, while the "invade or unreasonably diminish" standard applies to projects outside the corridor.
Q. What types of projects may fall under the purview of Section 7 of the Act?
A. Examples include, but are not limited to:
- Any dam, water conduit, reservoir, powerhouse, transmission line, or other project works licensed under the Federal Power Act;
- Other federally assisted projects such as dams, water diversion projects, fisheries habitat and watershed restoration/enhancement projects, bridges, roadway construction/reconstruction projects, bank stabilization projects, channelization projects, levee construction, recreation facilities (e.g., boat ramps, fishing piers), and activities that require a Section 404 permit from the Army Corps of Engineers.
Q. What is required of the administering agencies under Section 7 of the Act for proposed water resources projects?
A. Administering agencies must evaluate proposed water resources projects under the appropriate standard of Section 7. The result of that evaluation should be provided to the federal proponent or federal agency providing assistance. A Section 7 determination is not conducted as a NEPA analysis. It is, however, typically conducted in response to another federal agency's permitting or environmental analysis process.
An Introduction to Wild & Scenic Rivers (76 KB PDF) — A concise primer on wild and scenic rivers and what designation means to you.
A Compendium of Questions & Answers Relating to Wild & Scenic Rivers (317 KB PDF) — Everything you wanted to know about wild and scenic rivers in a Q&A format. These Q&As can also be accessed through a searchable data base.
Designating Rivers Through Section 2(a)(ii) of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (416 KB PDF) — This paper describes a process for designating rivers into the National System at the request of a state.