Time to Take Action
Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.


River Democracy Act more about land than water

Capital Press Editorial December 16, 2022

The new and improved River Democracy Act was introduced last week by Oregon’s two U.S. senators, and it’s a lot like the original.

It still fails to explain the need for the bill and redefines the 1968 Wild and Scenic River Act, converting it from a law aimed a protecting free-flowing rivers into a land management law.

Currently, there are 226 wild and scenic rivers in the entire U.S. The new River Democracy Act would add 100 bodies of water to that list. We use that term because most of them are not rivers.

The sponsors claim the bill will expand recreation access, boost local economies, protect drinking water for families, reduce wildfire threats and sustain endangered fish and wildlife species.

They also say federal land managers will help local governments “mitigate” wildfire risks and give Native American tribes a voice in managing the rivers.

And, it “ensures that only federal lands are affected by Wild and Scenic designations, while protecting private property rights, water rights and existing permits and rights of way on federal lands” and “gives federal agencies the flexibility to mitigate fire risks, allow for continued livestock grazing, respond to wildfires and help restore watersheds and infrastructure should a fire strike.”

Note that the “flexibility” to allow grazing isn’t a guarantee. Presumably, a federal land manager could change his or her mind in the future.

The main difference between the old River Democracy Act and the new bill is the number of miles of protected waters proposed has shrunk from 4,700 to 3,215. To get an idea of how far 3,215 miles is, it’s a little more than the distance from Portland, Ore., to Portland, Maine.

That’s in addition to the 2,173 miles of Oregon rivers already designated wild and scenic. That’s 19 rivers, including the Clackamas, McKenzie, Molalla and Sandy rivers.

In the original River Democracy Act, 124 bodies of water were included; 86 were creeks. Under the new version of the bill, out of 100 bodies of water still proposed for protection, 62 are creeks.

The sponsors, Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, insist that adding thousands of miles of rivers, streams and creeks to the listing will “protect the health of these delicate ecosystems and high quality water resources.”

In that respect, the bill is unneeded. Rivers are already protected under the federal Clean Water Act, which guarantees the water quality of all rivers.

Our suspicion is the senators aren’t interested in the creeks and rivers so much as the areas adjacent to them. Their bill would double the width of buffers along the rivers from a quarter-mile to a half-mile.

Let’s do some math. The senators want to put new restrictions on 3,215 square miles of land. That’s in addition to about 2,000 square miles of buffers already designated. Combined, that’s bigger than the state of Connecticut.

While reducing the number of creeks and rivers included in the bill from 124 to 100 is appreciated, we suggest the good senators keep going until they reach zero.

As amended, the River Democracy Act can only be described as a bad concept poorly executed.



In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, any copyrighted material herein is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only. For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml

Home Contact


              Page Updated: Saturday January 14, 2023 01:11 AM  Pacific

             Copyright © klamathbasincrisis.org, 2001 - 2023, All Rights Reserved